The Battle between Positive and Toxic Workplaces

May 10, 2016 8:32 pm Published by

An interesting juxtaposition has developed — the simultaneous focus in the world of work on toxic workplaces and creating positive work environments.

Knights - good and evil

Our book on toxic workplaces and the subsequent training we created on how to avoid becoming a toxic workplace (or survive one you are currently in) are growing in popularity and interest.  And I am asked more and more to speak to professional associations and write on the topic.

At the same time, there is a growing body of literature on how to create a positive workplace environment (sometimes labeled as workplace culture or climate).

One might mistakenly conclude that the two types of work settings are just opposites of one another:

  • if you create a positive atmosphere, the workplace won’t be toxic, OR
  • if a work environment isn’t toxic, then it must be a positive environment.

Neither conclusion is necessarily true.  Why?  Because a truly toxic workplace is comprised of more than negativity alone (poor communication, dysfunctional patterns, lack of accountability).  Similarly, there can still be lot of unhealthy communication, decision-making, and leadership even when people relate in a cheerful manner.

What is encouraging, however, is that communicating authentic appreciation to colleagues both increases the positive interactions in a workplace, and is a core action that starts to undermine toxic patterns.  In his new book, The Optimistic Workplace, Shawn Murphy repeatedly gives examples of the important role appreciation plays in creating an optimistic workplace.  A few quotes will demonstrate the synergy between the two:

  •  “Business has always been and will always be about relationships. . . We long to feel good about our work.”
  • “For positive workplaces to thrive, leaders must get to know the whole person. . . Leaders must adopt business practices that help employees have a personal life.” (which is directly related to our emphasis that appreciation is about the whole person, not just their performance.)

What we are finding is that some work environments are relatively healthy, and can benefit and grow positively when the staff learn how to communicate authentic appreciation effectively.

In other cases, the characteristics that have created a toxic workplace have to be addressed first (e.g. mistrust, lack of integrity in communication) before training staff in communicating appreciation will be effective.

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If you aren’t sure if your workplace is “toxic” or not, take a look at our Ratings Of Toxic Symptoms scale.

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Published by
May 10, 2016 8:32 pm

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