Negativity can kill a workplace, such as when my client, Lisa, who was a manager at a Tier 1 manufacturing company, had to deliver unwelcome news of a merger to her team who might potentially be afraid for their very jobs!
When Lisa learned of the new working
conditions, she was frustrated and wanted to blame the upper management for mishandling the company situation. She realized this was negative energy. So, armed with information from discussions in our coaching sessions, she decided she would take an approach with a higher level of energy. She decided to change her thoughts to a more positive way of thinking.
What We Create With Our Thoughts Our thoughts create energy on a continuum from negative (catabolic) to positive (anabolic) energy. There are seven levels of energy according to Bruce R. Schneider of the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching: Level 1: The Victim, Level 2, The Fighter, Level 3: The Rationalizer, Level 4: The Nurturer, Level 5: The Opportunist, Level 6: The Visionary, and Level 7: The Creator.
The first two levels, The Victim and The Fighter, are completely catabolic (negative) energy. This releases hormones that are intended to create enough physical energy to respond to a stressor by either fighting, fleeing, or freezing. With a lot of negative thoughts over time, the stress hormones deteriorate the entire physical system. This was the energy Lisa’s first thinking created.
The Negative Energy Level Beginning with level three, The Rationalizer, energy becomes less catabolic (negative) and more anabolic (positive) with each level. In Lisa’s case, we had discussed that life is what you make it, and she decided it would be better to face this change head on with a positive attitude. So, knowing that this could be a potentially difficult change for her team, she would choose to focus on solutions. She would do her best, whether or not the change would work out. She would show management she was ready for promotion.
As I helped Lisa prepare for the meeting with her team, we talked about the outcome she wanted, and the potential energetic reactions of her staff. We used the seven levels of energy outlined above to think about the possible reactions of her staff to the news of this merger. Here is what she thought people might say:
• Level 1 (Victim): This always happens to me. I can’t catch a break. I might as well pack my stuff up now. • Level 2 (Fighter): Are you kidding me! I never should have taken this job! They don’t appreciate anything I do! • Level 3 (Rationalizer): Well, the merger is happening. I have my resume ready and I’ll just keep my head down and keep doing the best I can. • Level 4 (Nurturer): Oh dear. Our poor team. I wonder how I can help everyone figure out next steps. • Level 5 (Opportunist): This is awesome! We’re going to have new people to work with that will infuse new ideas into our projects. There’s so much we can do!
Lisa decided she would take a level five Opportunist approach. Together, we worked on an outline for the agenda, and role-played a few scenarios based on the possible reactions her staff might have. We brainstormed a list of the team’s accomplishments to help keep the group positively focused. We developed some simple strategies to help her support the team during the meeting, and to encourage open sharing.
While her intentions were good, her delivery was classic level three Rationalizer. She took total control of the meeting, not inviting comments from her team. Here’s how it went.
Tolerating and Coping Your Way to Success Lisa went into the meeting with a smile and a positive attitude. In the first five minutes of the meeting, she recapped the team’s quarterly successes and progress on projects, and her view of what contributed to those successes. She reframed any negative comments from the team into positive statements about the growth the team was experiencing.
Then she told them they had the opportunity to show management what the team was really made of and shared the news of the change. Lisa said, “So, this is the framework we have to work in, how can we capitalize on it and show management that we’re vital to the company?” After several suggestions from the team, Lisa shared the direction she wanted to go and promised she would be there to support them.
Why was this level three energy? Lisa wasn’t going to let anyone stand in her way. With level three energy, people are in it for themselves. If others can “win” too, then that’s great. These leaders are able to engage their team fairly easily. They may be blaming others, but they are able to rationalize behaviors or situations to release that catabolic, negative energy. In Lisa’s case, even though things hadn’t quite turned out as planned, she wanted to maintain the peace and keep everyone productive. At an energetic level three, she didn’t take the time to understand why the team members were complaining. Instead, she tried to “fix” their thinking, a common level three response.
Lisa wanted to win the support of her team to make herself look good to upper management, and hopefully, the team too. But, she wasn’t going to allow the members of her team to hold her back. This is typical of level three energy. At this level of energy she was motivating herself and her team by finding ways to cope, release, forgive, tolerate, compromise, and by explaining away disappointments, stress and resentment so everyone would cooperate and stay productive.
Creating The Hope After the meeting, Lisa and I continued to work together to raise energy levels for both her and the team. When we noticed someone just putting up with the situation, explaining away stress, rationalizing conflict, or putting more emphasis on being right or in control, here is what we did.
1. Focus on the positive. When people are in energy level three, they use tolerating and coping to explain away resentments. It allows them to move away from the conflict of energy level two. But they are still giving up a lot. To help bring energy to a more positive level with Lisa and her team we used these questions.
• If you are tolerating (this situation) , what are you giving up? • What steps could you take to move from good enough to great?
2. Face the facts head on. As Lisa worked with her individual team members, she began to recognize those who were going to continue to find ways to make the changes work, and those who were unwilling to change. At first she focused on her own responsibility and what else she could do to make this work. To help her move to a higher energy level we explored these questions. • What assumptions are you making about this person? • How are you interpreting this person’s behavior? • How can you find out what this person is thinking? • What do you want to do with this new knowledge? • What is the best thing to do now?
3. Feel what you say. Often people with level three energy tend to think one thing and say another. They get caught up in appearing to be caring, but are responding more with logic than with emotion. A key factor in changing this is to get to know others on a personal level. Lisa began to show more interest in her team. As a result, she realized that when individuals were resisting change it was because they believed they didn’t have a choice in what was happening to them. This led her into the next energy level: The Nurturer.
Nurture Others to Succeed Energy level four is nurturing energy. It is all about selflessly helping others. You consider the welfare of others before your own. At this level there is deep compassion and caring, and a feeling of genuine connection with others. You want to make a difference in the world, and you don’t take things personally. People with level four energy often want to “fix” others. They tend to believe others are “broken” and need help. It’s easy to get frustrated and drained (energy level two) if you can’t help others get better.
As Lisa began nurturing her team members, we worked on helping her keep her energy level up by doing the following.
1. Find ways to get your own needs met. Lisa’s focus on her team became so intense that she often didn’t have the energy or focus to get her own work done. She began scheduling dedicated time for her own work, and added time to her calendar for a 15 minute walk at lunch time. This helped clear her head and had the added benefit of keeping in shape.
2. Reframe thoughts. Lisa and I also focused on identifying how interpretations of situations or of other people create stories or thoughts in our own minds about what is happening. Those thoughts create emotions that lead to actions. Lisa practiced first on herself. When she caught herself acting in a way that wasn’t helpful, or that she didn’t intend, she stopped and checked in with her emotions and the thoughts that were causing those emotions. She changed her thoughts to more positive or helpful ones that allowed her to change her feelings and act in productive ways. At first, she needed a lot of my support to do this.
Once she began to get the hang of it, she helped her team members do the same. The result was that there was much less negativity in the office and a lot more synergy in their work together.
3. Look for opportunities. As Lisa’s thoughts changed, she became more open to looking for the opportunities in challenging situations. Reframing her thoughts led her to see new ways to approach situations. She was able to involve her team more in creating solutions instead of trying to “fix” them. Productivity was going up, relationships were much more positive, and people were showing a “can do” attitude.
Want to learn more about turning negativity in your workplace to profitability? Connect with me, Joy Humbarger, on LinkedIn, or tweet me on Twitter. Let Maximize Your Leadership help your team and profits grow!