When Having A Negative Attitude Is A GOOD Thing

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Anger_ZhangQingyun-1Illustrated by Zhang Qingyun.
Looks like pessimists have reason to feel optimistic: New research by Dirk Lindebaum, PhD and Professor Peter Jordan, both of the University of Liverpool, suggests that it can be good to feel bad at work. The researchers commissioned five related studies that were published in a special issue of the journal Human Relations. Each article highlights a different “theme” or situation in which Negative Nancies might hold the key to happiness in the workplace.

Take, for instance, an article that examined the disconnect between negative emotions and negative outcomes in the context of teamwork. After observing how 75 inter-professional teams reacted to how positive or negative their leader appeared, the researchers found that negativity can promote differentiation of ideas and critical discussion among workers. This, in turn, enhances team effectiveness, rather than supporting a "lazy" consensus. (Of course, no emotions stand alone; when your boss is grilling everyone seated at the conference table, is it negativity or fear that’s whipping everyone into shape?)

As the authors acknowledge, how we respond to negativity versus positivity depends on myriad factors — our personalities, those of our colleagues, our line of work, our abilities, and our motivations. However, there is something to be said for the researchers' consensus: that our negative emotions are there to tell us something, and we shouldn't necessarily keep them under wraps.

So, if you’re pissed off because you feel like your manager is treating a fellow coworker unfairly, consider speaking your mind; maybe you’ll prevent future injustices. It's all well and good to "think positive!" But, if positivity translates into complacency and superficiality, you may want to unleash your inner grouch after all.