The Surprising Power of Appreciation at Work

The Surprising Power of Appreciation at Work

Remember when your mom told you, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?” Turns out, there’s a lot of merit to that advice.

No one likes a complainer. When you show up to work and try your best to add value while being as positive as possible, the resident Debby Downer of the workplace can instantly turn your best intentions into another bad day.

Having to tolerate a perpetual complainer in the workplace has many downsides, not only for you but for the rest of the team. Here’s how.

How Constant Complaining Impacts the Team

You bring people down. As the saying goes, misery loves company. It’s to be expected that enduring a constant barrage of complaining would have a negative effect on you as an individual. One person’s negativity spreads to others, and can put people in a funk over time.

It hurts morale. Constant complaining can have a cumulative negative effect for everyone on the team. Over time, the continuous talk track of negativity begins to wear on people and performance, usually just making things worse.

It hurts productivity. A recent study by Michigan State University researchers found that negative-minded workers are more likely to become defensive and mentally fatigued, which decreases productivity.

It makes you look unprofessional. Sure, you may think of it as a way to help bond with your coworkers by creating a common “enemy”. But the reality of the matter is, most people have no interest wallowing with you.

It shuts things down and limits possibilities. When you begin to focus on the negative your internal (and external) narrative becomes centered on what’s not working and you inevitably begin to go down a rabbit hole that becomes more and more difficult to pull yourself out of. Alternatively, when you focus on what is working, and when you take an appreciative approach to your work you keep the door open for many more possibilities.

The Benefits of a Positive Outlook

So, how do we move away from negativity in the workplace? The good news is, whether positive or negative, emotions spread. If you can begin to intentionally express positive emotions, like gratitude, in your organization, it can eventually turn the mood around.

This concept of emotional contagions can work to spread negative or positive thinking. Each of us has the power to change the mood of our organization by choosing our attitude and providing feedback to others who are ruining the vibe around the office.

I recently spoke with Positivity Strategist Robyn Stratton-Berkessel, a respected leader in organizational development through Appreciative Inquiry. Her advice? “What you focus on, grows.”

“It seems simple: you focus on joy and you grow joy; you focus on trust and you grow trust; you focus on integrity, you grow integrity. When you train your appreciative eye in this way, you see there is so much to be appreciated—from the glorious sunrise, to the smiles of your colleagues, and the feeling of satisfaction for a job well done.

“This is a big shift from the traditional view of organizational life where we’re rewarded to focus first on mistakes and problems, while the strengths and best assets get taken for granted. This human pattern is built into our evolutionary need for survival: people shut down (or attack) when faced with threat, and they open up (and include) when they feel safe. When one’s mind and heart is open, positive emotions, thoughts and actions follow.”

Here’s how to get started if you need a little jolt of positivity:

1. Check your emotions throughout the day and choose your attitude. Being mindful of your reactions to events throughout your workday can help you identify when you may be slipping into Debby Downer territory. Plus, it can also help you identify the triggers that negatively impact your state of being.

2. Pay attention to your language. “Pay attention to the language you and everybody else uses in your organization,” says Stratton-Berkessel. “When you change your language, you change your world. Meaning is made in the relational, leadership processes. In this way, you sew the seeds for your collective future.”

3. Say thank you. The simple act of showing some gratitude to others can have a profound effect on the emotional contagion of your workplace. In fact, one study found that in organizations where recognition occurs, employee engagement, productivity and customer service are about 14 percent better than in those where recognition does not occur.

4. Start a gratitude journal. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that subjects who wrote about things they were grateful for on a weekly basis (versus another group of subjects who were tasked with writing about what irritated them and a third that wrote about events that affected them) reported being more optimistic and feeling better about their lives. Taking time to reflect on what’s working really can help to reinforce the good things.

Neel Burton, MD’s article on the psychology of gratitude does a nice job of discussing the topic in more detail. Neel points out the other benefits that gratitude can have in peoples’ lives including: reduced stress, higher engagement at work, increased motivation and higher levels of satisfaction.

5. Ask for feedback. Find someone with whom you work closely and ask them to make observations of your behavior. They can keep you honest and provide feedback in the moment when you begin to complain. This support can really help you nip that behavior in the bud and, trust me, if you are a habitual complainer the person you ask will be glad to help you out.

6. Shift the narrative. Stratton-Berkessel advises leaders to “shift the organizational narrative to one of successes, high points, opportunities and future possibilities. When you discover what works well and is energizing to stakeholders, you set about learning how to do more of that. Solutions lurk in quiet corners within organizations. When you find them, spread the stories, design processes and practices that expand and amplify the positive behaviors. Appreciation will become contagious.”

Find Your Positive Inertia

At the end of the day, like increases like. Whatever has momentum will tend to continue to exist and grow. Newton’s first law of motion applies in terms of workplace dynamics as well. “An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

If you complain and focus on the negative, you can expect to find every single aspect of your work environment that supports your narrative. Finding ways to apply an unbalanced force to yourself or others who seem to be stuck in a cycle of negativity is the only way to change the inertia of your workplace.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.