How To Turn A Negative Situation Into A Positive Outcome

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What good is a hunter if they can’t sense danger? In prehistoric times, our brains were wired to detect threats and avoid hazards. If you were more aware of and responsive to danger – a negative stimuli – you were more likely to survive.

Turns out we’re not so different now. It’s called the negativity bias; it means we’re more likely to take notice of and use gloomy, bleak, cynical and even morbid information, rather than optimistic.

In this article, we’ll examine the types of negative situations that can crop up in the workplace, how this can impact staff and what can be done about it. We’ll also look at the benefits of changing a negative into a positive, as well as the consequences of not doing so.

Key Points:

  • A negative situation can be anything from an annoying TV advert that gets stuck in your head, the time you made a mistake at work, or even a bad review of that air fryer you were considering.
  • But it’s not all doom and gloom – you can easily turn a negative workplace situation into a positive with the right tools and attitude.
  • Building a positive culture with your employees can bring many benefits to your workplace, such as increased motivation, resilience and wellbeing.

Types of negative situations in the workplace which can be turned into a positive

Negative situations in the workplace can be internal or external, personal or universal.

A few examples of negative situations in the workplace – and the potential consequences – include:

#1. Missing a deadline

Just one person missing a deadline can have a knock-on effect, which can lead to frustration, guilt, a sense of having let down the team and disappointment in yourself.

💡How can good leaders manage this negative situation and turn it into a positive?💡

The first thing to do to improve this situation is to let the client, partner or your co-worker know as soon as possible. Be honest about the reason to show you understand what went wrong – trust is important in building strong relationships so this could actually improve your bond.

Be prepared to work hard (sometimes the best ideas come from pressure) but not at the expense of good quality work or your mental health. The end result could end up being one of your best, considering all the extra care you’ve taken!

#2. A social media post gone wrong

If this happens it can be disheartening and cause a lot of anxiety, which could leave employees feeling uninspired, dejected and even struggling with their mental health.

💡How can good leaders manage this negative situation and turn it into a positive?💡

As with the point above, being honest is important to building good relationships in the workplace and with customers, so apologise and own the mistake – you’ll likely gain more respect and appear more trustworthy.

How you react to a mistake says a lot about you and the organisation you work for, so it’s important to be tactful. If it’s a serious problem, treat it seriously. If it’s something light-hearted, like a typo, you might even be able to turn it into something funny and gain some positive attention.

#3. Your decisions or ideas being questioned

This can lead to employees to doubt themselves, as though their expertise is inadequate and that they aren’t trusted to do their jobs. It can also feel humiliating if done in front of other staff or in a tactless way.

💡How can good leaders manage this negative situation and turn it into a positive?💡

Having a decision or idea called into question is usually a good thing. Everyone has a slightly different perspective, so instead of being daunted by the conflict think of it as a way to refine your reasoning. This gives you a chance to explain your thought process and welcome constructive feedback (even if you weren’t necessarily looking for it!).

#4. Arriving late to a meeting

Employees can feel embarrassed – particularly if they’re called out on it during the meeting – and it can disrupt the flow of the session. Some might feel so uncomfortable they decide not to turn up at all and miss out on important information.

💡How can good leaders manage this negative situation and turn it into a positive?💡

This is a negative where it’s almost impossible to find the good – it’s usually a case of learning from it and handling it well. For example, if you know you’re going to be late, ask the host if there’s anything you can read through in advance.

If you were unexpectedly late or can’t make the meeting at all, reach out to the meeting leader afterwards and apologise, then ask if they’d be willing to explain anything you’ve missed – perhaps over lunch if it’s appropriate to chat informally. Showing interest and enthusiasm can go a long way to turning an awkward situation around.

Asking the host if you can help them somehow or making use of their expertise is a great way to improve your relationship after a situation like this, as it shows you do value their time and opinions.

More ways leaders can manage negative situations and turn them into positives

  • Firstly, encourage your team to familiarise themselves with any relevant documentation your company has.
  • Point your team towards helpful information and training, if available.
  • You could even set aside some time during team 1-2-1’s or group meetings to discuss any challenges or conflicts your team is facing and whether you can extract any benefits from it.
  • Encourage work colleagues to create positive affirmations. Repeating them each day has been scientifically proven to turn negative thoughts into positive ones. 

It’s important to remember that not every negative will have a positive solution – sometimes there is nothing to be gained, and the only thing left to do is learn from it and handle the situation appropriately.

Any negative situation is likely to be stressful and a cause for anxiety. As a leader, it’s important to make sure that the employees involved are okay – even if that’s yourself. Helping each other gain a positive result from a negative situation can help build resilience. So if the only outcome is that the person or team involved are okay and can find a way to move forward, then that’s a win by itself.

How negative situations can help build resilience

Resilience is how well you adapt in difficult situations and it’s a skill you can build through searching for the solutions to challenges instead of focussing on the negative. You can also become more resilient by setting SMART goals, building strong relationships with those who will support you and improving your self-awareness.

It’s a great skill to have in the workplace, as it can help employees find the motivation to chase their goals and prevent them from becoming overwhelmed.

💡Resilience Example💡

An example could be a member of the team leaving and you have to temporarily take on their workload. A person with low resilience would dwell on the inconvenience and who was to blame. Someone with high resilience would adapt their working day to incorporate the extra tasks and even be glad of the chance to work on something different.

How can leaders make turning negatives into positives a part of the workplace culture?

To gauge how your company’s culture is currently received, you could implement engagement surveys There are three key drivers to having a healthy culture regarding negative situations:

Clarity: make the company’s purpose and culture clear, so everyone understands their contribution and that it’s safe to make mistakes and learn from them

Unity: foster a culture of togetherness and show that the company is a place where everyone can contribute

Agility: be flexible and able to adapt to different circumstances

It’s important to make sure that your staff know they are allowed to fail, and that they feel comfortable approaching their manager or team leader to discuss negative situations, as well as positive.

You could dedicate a section of the company’s culture documentation to it, emphasising that mistakes are okay because you can learn from them and move on. You could also include some guidance for what to do if an employee is dealing with a negative situation and needs support. A training course or reading material on key techniques, like root cause analysis, could also be beneficial.

If this isn’t already part of the company culture, it’s never too late to implement it. Change itself is usually taken negatively, but framing it as ’progress’ offers an alternative way of thinking.

Key Point

Kurt Lewin’s change management model is just one of the methods you could use to help implement a stronger culture on how to turn a negative into a positive.

What benefits can this bring to a business?

Companies tend to require rapid change and growth. Working out the negatives can help identify opportunities and risks more quickly, which can better enable growth and gives employees more chances to practise their adaptability.

Senior management might not have the answers to solve every problem; it might be the case that a graduate employee or an intern has the right insight instead. Encouraging a culture where staff feel comfortable sharing their ideas and can communicate constructively allows your business to solve problems more efficiently, instead of letting seniority and job titles dictate the way forward.

If your staff are able to adapt a negative into a positive, this could be a sign of high emotional intelligence and high positive intelligence – it can require empathy, motivation and a range of other soft skills to turn an unfortunate situation around, which can be beneficial in all areas of the workplace.

Picture of Matthew Channell
Matthew Channell
Matthew is TSW Training’s Commercial Director. He writes about performance focussed learning, leadership, and management approaches that have real-world, sustainable impact.
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