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Recognition in The Real World
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Dr. Paul White: Understanding Negativity’s Roots Helps Keep It Positive

Posted By Jess Myers, Ewald Consulting, Thursday, July 12, 2018

In even the best workplace, and even with the best-executed employee recognition program, it seems that there’s always a naysayer. Negativity is a fact of life, Understanding the roots of negativity in the workplace, how to deal with it and how to counteract it, is important to success in the world of recognition.

Dr. Paul White

Dr. Paul White, a sought-after speaker and leadership trainer, how negativity can affect a workplace. In a recent conversation from his office in the heart of Kansas, he gave some insight on from where it originates, and how it can affect recognition: 

“First we look at what causes negative reactions. These are typically a result of having unmet expectations. You have an idea of what something should be and if it’s not that, you can get frustrated, irritated, hurt, discouraged, angry and all those kinds of things.”

He stresses the important of helping employees have appropriate expectations, because not everyone does:

“Part of that is education about what is reality-based according to your industry, in terms of compensation and bonuses, or your role. That can depend on your geographic location. For example, Wichita is less of a high-dollar kind of place than San Francisco or New York City, so a similar role in the same industry is going to have dollar flows, in and out, that are going to be less.

“Part of it is also an education piece about how your recognition program works, the frequency of how often awards are given, how the decisions are made, and some history and context of how it has worked in the past.”

And when changes are made, be prepared for negativity, even if the changes will be a good thing in the long run:

“Change creates potential challenges. Change takes energy to respond to. So even if it’s a good change, you will have some resistance because people have to get used to it and how it rolls.

“Some people really like predictability. For a lot of people, it gives them a sense of security. If we know we’re going to have pizza for lunch on Friday, I can think about what kind of pizza to have. If we change it and say we’re going to have either pizza or Chinese or Mexican for lunch, it’s a good change, but now you have to think about more than one thing. So sometimes simplicity is preferred because of the emotional energy it takes to process choices.”

Another challenge comes when a person’s expectations about their workplace or about employee recognition are not based in what is realistic:

“At some point you have to examine how reality based are your expectations. Do a little research, talk to people, get some feedback, not in the sense of just getting someone to agree with you, but really try to get some data about it.

“Another question to ask is there some problem solving you can do or some action you can take? There’s a saying that you can either complain about the darkness or you can light a candle. Historically the American way of dealing with a problem is not just to moan about it, but to figure it out.”

And employee recognition programs, which are intended to bring positivity to the workplace, can have the opposite effect if they’re done improperly:

“I find that recognition programs can actually contribute to negativity when they are either poorly conceived, poorly implemented or inconsistently implemented. Inconsistence is deadly because it messes with expectations. You expect something to happen regularly and it doesn’t so you get rewarded sometimes and not others.

“When recognition programs try to use recognition for performance activities – which are good and useful when done well – to try to make a person feel valued individually, it typically doesn’t work. Because it’s about their performance, not them as a person, so it feels very conditional. 

“The reactions to poorly designed and implemented recognition programs can be apathy, where people think ‘they have it but it doesn’t mean anything to me,’ or sarcasm, where people don’t believe it’s genuine or feel it’s political – IT this month and Accounting next month as far as who gets an award. When there’s a lack of trust it leads to sarcasm and cynicism.

His best advice for dealing with negativity is to offer the opposite:

“You should counteract negativity with positivity. That comes in the form of gratitude and thankfulness for what you do have.

“In Wichita today it’s going to be 102 today, so I am thankful for air conditioning. I can complain about the heat, or I can be thankful to have a job where I don’t work outside in these conditions. When people are communicating negatively, you can make positive comments.

“Positive comments in a negative conversation are kind of like throwing water on a fire. The two best ways to combat negativity in the workplace are, 1) don’t contribute to it, and 2) make a positive comment.”

For more information, you can visit www.drpaulwhite.com and learn more about his practice and workplace tips. For more information on developing a strong recognition strategy, check out the RPI Seven Best Practices.

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