Take a Look in the Mirror

Maybe the problem at work is you

Last week, my Winnipeg Free Press column dealt with how to deal with an annoying co-worker. However, what if you are the problem? Yes, you! How could that be? Well, first of all, take a look at your attitude. Are you the one with a bad attitude? Are you the one making everyone miserable around you? Are you the one creating concerns for your boss?

Having a bad attitude impacts your work behaviour, so your boss and colleagues will see are a number of issues that could quickly become a concern. What are your boss and colleagues seeing? Typically, someone who is mired in a negative attitude will slack off on their work deadlines, or routine policies and procedures may not be followed; this then creates additional work that may in turn cause customer-service problems.

Attendance also is one of the first signs of a negative attitude: arriving late and leaving early and/or squeezing more time out of lunch and coffee breaks — anything to avoid going back to work. And finally, your responses to performance coaching may become increasingly unco-operative, argumentative and defensive.

While many people don’t recognize their own negativity, there are also personal signs that shouldn’t be ignored. These include difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. In fact, you’ve probably not had a good sleep for many nights. Work issues tumble through your mind all night long, so of course, you are pretty grumpy by the time you arrive to start work. Not only that, everything seems to rattle you. Short-tempered, you lash out at whoever is closest to you. You feel the world is against you.

So, how do you get out of this negative cycle? After all, it’s your responsibility, and in most cases, you don’t want to lose your job. And jumping to a new job when you are in a negative frame of mind simply transfers the problem. I can guarantee from my consulting experience, if you move when you have a poor attitude, your new job will not be the right one.

Thus, it seems the old proverb, "Look before you leap" is good advice that fits well in this situation. In other words, don’t think about changing jobs until you look at all aspects of your work and life and take steps to regain your equilibrium. In simple terms: take charge of your life.

OK, what does "taking charge" of your life look like? How does one erase a pessimistic, negative attitude and an all-around bad mood? Can you really change how you feel? The answer is yes you can, but it requires taking a good honest look at yourself. It requires understanding your emotions.

  1. Sadness/depression —These are emotions you will experience when you have a loss or fail to reach a goal, such as getting a promotion.
  2. Guilt/shame —These are the emotions experienced when you believe you have failed to live up to your own standards. Perhaps you blamed someone for an error when that wasn’t the case. It’s a form of self-condemnation.
  3. Anger, frustration —These emotions emerge when you feel you haven’t lived up to your expectations. Perhaps your last document wasn’t up to your usual standards. The word "should" is a big part of your vocabulary.
  4. Anxiety/worry —You constantly feel in danger of something bad happening. You ask, "what if?" This often arises when a new boss comes on the scene, or if you feel you can’t make a specific deadline.
  5. Inferiority/inadequacy —Inferiority occurs when you are always comparing yourself to others and determine you’re not as good. You don’t feel special.
  6. Loneliness —This emotion arises when you feel unloved and alone. You are not getting sufficient personal attention from others. Perhaps you are being isolated at work, and maybe for good reason!
  7. Hopelessness —This emotion gives you the feeling a bad situation will go on forever. You constantly use words such as "always," "never," or "forever." You think, "Nothing will ever change around here."

Becoming self-aware of these emotions is called developing your emotional intelligence. It requires you to stop and think about what your emotions are and why you are feeling a certain way. Start by taking time to write down and briefly describe the situation you are experiencing and document your negative thoughts and feelings.

Burns suggests when you feel bad and have negative thoughts, your thoughts are actually distorted and unrealistic in spite of the fact you believe they are valid. He calls this phenomenon, "twisted thinking" and suggests everyone should be aware of how this steers us into a bad mood.

  1. All or nothing thinking — This thinking pattern is very rigid. Your behaviour is either perfect and/or a total failure, you are either right or wrong. There doesn’t seem to be any grey in-between.
  2. Over-generalizing —For some reason, you see one failing event as a never-ending pattern. You use words such as "always" or "never."For example, you can "never" get a parking spot at your favourite event. The result is you will overreact and get more upset than necessary.
  3. Discounting the positive —For some reason, you discount a positive experience and suggest they "don’t count." Nothing is good enough! This kind of thinking erodes your confidence and takes away any sense of satisfaction.
  4. Jumping to conclusions —This type of thinking is nothing more than "mind reading," where you don’t have any facts, yet you predict a potential result negatively. For instance, you may not apply for a job because "you wouldn’t get it anyway."
  5. ‘Should’ statements — You "should" do this or you "should" do that are parental statements that cause a sense of guilt. For instance, you "should" take at least one training course per year. When this doesn’t happen you feel guilty, which in turn could tip your mood into negativity and self-reprisal.

Now that you have described the situation you are experiencing, identify the twisted thinking you are applying to the situation. You’ll be surprised to learn you are probably applying many of the items described above to your one single situation. You then need to review the truth of the situation, rethink and reframe your thoughts in order to get rid of your negative thinking. Write them down if you have to. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your feelings and mood will change.

As mentioned earlier, if you have a bad attitude, you will see this impacting on work relationships, work achievements and, frankly, your career success. Stay away from blaming your boss’s management style, your pay scale and/or your competition. Instead, take responsibility for your behaviour, change your mood, change your mind and change your life.

Exploring your negative attitude is an opportunity to make sure you are in the right place at the right time and doing the right things with your skill set. It’s also the right time to really understand what your skill set is. I find so many people take themselves for granted. They don’t realize what they are good at or what they like to do.

At the same time, I find many people don’t really understand what motivates them and why they do what they do. So, now that the weather is warming up, take time to do some personal and career spring cleaning. Check your attitude, check your skills, check your motivation and repackage yourself into that positive, happy person you once were. Life is great, don’t miss it.

Source: The Feeling Good Handbook, Dr. David Burns, MD, 1989

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