Being Positive When Your Colleagues Are Negative

Somehow no matter how much we may try to make December a happy month, there are always some people who tend to take a negative view on life. In a business environment, such as tourism, negativity can be deadly, writes Dr. Peter E. Tarlow.

It is essential that not only front line personnel maintain an upbeat view of the world, but also those who work behind the scenes. The basic rule is that negativity not only breeds further negativity but also tends to be self-serving in that negative and pessimistic people tend to create self-fulfilling prophecies.

Below are some suggestions on how to deal with negative people and turn negativity into positive actions:

Always set boundaries. It is not your responsibility to engage with a negative co-worker. Remind the person that you have to listen to customer complaints, but that no one is forced to work at this job and the option of seeking another job is always available. Let the complainer know that you are happy with your job and want to remain happy.

Avoid complainers. Chronic complainers are experts at turning creativity into failure and then blaming everyone but themselves. The best technique may be avoidance: smile, be polite but keep your distance.

Choose your battles. Tourism seems to breed complaints and it is not your job to fight every battle. Sometimes the best defence with an angry customer or co-worker is simply refuse to fight. The key is to realize that people who fight every battle become bitter and turn negative.

Beware of:

The can’t wait to tell you the bad news person. These are the perhaps the most damaging of office people. They thrive not only on gossip but also more importantly on negative gossip. A good response is to inform the bearer of bad tidings that you would rather focus on the positive or on the solution rather than wallow in the negative. Turn the negative into positive actions by asking if there is something that you can do to improve the situation.

The Rumourmonger. Because tourism tends to be a volunteeristic activity, it is open to what may seem to be a never-ending series of rumours. Rumour spreaders love to tell us that the budget has been cut, that half the staff is to be fired, or that tourism receipts are reported to be down. Often these rumours are pure fabrications. When faced with rumours, ask for facts. Ask questions such as: who told you? How reliable is that person? A second solution is to point out that these types of rumours make you sick and that until facts are established you would prefer not to hear the rumour.

The eternal victims. Passengers often see themselves as victims, frontline personnel are often sure that they are victimized by both upper level management and by the tourist. People who are victims are never at fault, and the responsibility for a problem or crisis always belongs to another person. Try asking the person to tell you something positive. Even when dealing with an angry customer, see if you can turn a negative situation into a positive one by asking: so what was good about your experience? In the case of a co-worker who insists on being a victim, ask the person what he or she has learned from the situation and what she/he could have done better?

The over analyser. Negative people can sometimes behave irrationally and you can over analyse their actions and thus turn yourself into a gossip. In such cases give yourself a limited time to vent, say it and be done with it. When a person over analyses an issue, she/he wastes valuable time and energy. In most cases you will never make sense of the negative person’s actions, so do not try! The key here as in all of tourism is do not become overly invested in an issue, empathize but do not sympathize.

Refuse to be negative but instead work at being positive.

Tourism is all about fun, joy and a sense of joie de vivre. Do not allow others to bring you down. When you engage in negative thought or with negative people, you not only hurt yourself but you hurt the entire tourism industry. Experts in tourism know that both being positive and being negative are contagious. So be positive and your co-workers and customers will not only thank you but also begin to put a smile on their faces.

The next time you feel yourself getting sucked into a negative black hole, refuse to enter and remember that tourism is all about getting the most out of life and in most cases it is about moments of unanticipated joy.

About the Author: Dr. Peter E. Tarlow publishes a monthly ‘Tourism Tidbits’ newsletter. He is a founder of the Texas chapter of TTRA, President of T&M, and a popular author and speaker on tourism. Tarlow is a specialist in the areas of sociology of tourism, economic development, tourism safety and security. Tarlow speaks at governors’ and state conferences on tourism and conducts seminars throughout the world. For more information visit or e-mail [email protected]

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