One idea: Create a “snark-free zone” at work.
Q: The office I work in is becoming increasingly angry. It seems like there are no more “honest mistakes;” instead folks are looking for the bad intent. It’s not just others; I find myself doing it. What can I do? —Cliff, 46, operations team manager
A: Cleaning your own house will be the best place to start. Take a look at your attitude as a whole. Often when a dynamic is showing up at work, it can be originating in another part of your life. For example, if there are stressful situations in your family, it can make you edgy. If nonwork factors are winding you up, look for ways to cool things down, perhaps taking a news or social media break.
Then reach out to your team. Model the dynamic you are hoping to achieve by being transparent about your own feelings; this will encourage other people to enter the discussion. Share your observations and draw people out. Reflect on the impact negativity has on getting work done effectively, as well as its impact on professional satisfaction.
Collectively create a plan to have a “snark-free zone” at work. Your team might not be able to control the broader organization, but you can build an oasis for yourselves. Focus on the tone within your group. If there’s blaming going on, make a decision to stop. This applies to comments about people outside your group, too.
Now, things you are not happy about will still occur. Someone may make a mistake. Avoid the temptation to brand them as evil. Instead, consider systemic factors that may have caused the poor outcome, training gaps that can be remedied, or just that even the best people slip up sometimes.
From a proactive side, choose to make positive statements and recognize accomplishments, both for yourself and others. Also develop strategies to call people on it if they are being nasty.
If you are serious about this, make it an expectation for people as part of their jobs. Realistically, there may be people who aren’t willing to change, and tolerating the bad attitude will damage the rest of the team’s morale. Give people a chance, and also have consequences in place.
As a leader, strive to influence other managers at your company. Your business will benefit, and so will the people in it.
Submit questions to Liz Reyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.