The Importance and Impact of Positivity in the Workplace
By: Jessica Solari, M.A. CCC-SLP of Consonantly Speaking
You would think that this early in my career that I would not have worked at enough places to write this post. You're wrong. I can see the tremendous difference between positive and negative talk in the workplace from my own four different workplaces. I can see the tremendous difference in how other SLPs talk about their workplaces online. Most of all, I am well aware of how negative talk can impact my clients.
It's heartbreaking enough when you hear negative talk about children in the teacher's lounge. At first, I would try to be a positive influence, or role-model persay, countering the negative talk with a positive spin. If an employee was complaining about a student, I would either change the subject, remind them that you never know who could be listening in the lounge, or mention strengths and positive things about the student. When I realized that the lounge was sacred time to vent and gossip about other professionals/people in the community, I decided that the solice of my office was better than the negativity. It can really make you depressed which can carry over into the rest of your day. One of the many teachers I worked with talked so much about her students being "naughty" rather than listening to the intervention team's ideas about helping her with difficult student behaviors in her class that the principal pulled her aside. "He asked me if I wanted my job here," she complained, "because he didn't think that I wanted to be here. He said that there were tons of others who would be glad to have the chance to work in a school. I am absolutely appauled! The teacher's lounge is where we go to vent! Next thing you know, they'll take that away from us!" Others chimed in talking about the teacher's union and nodding in agreement. That was the last time I spent time in that teacher's lounge.
Even more heartbreaking is when other professionals refuse to implement necessary and even required (via IEP) strategies and accommodations. At one school, a person literally told me that she refused to modify her lessons for a student who was English as a Second Language, Deaf, Cognitively Impaired, and had cranial malformations. "I just give him a coloring page so he has something to do while I teach," she stated. Absolutely heartbreaking. Another person told me that she refused to use visuals other than a visual schedule because they were distracting, wouldn't work, and were too time consuming to implement with a child who had Autism. This person would talk back and question me during weekly or even daily meetings, which could have been drastically reduced if our plan had been followed. I had to sit back daily and determine whether it was worth it or not to walk over to this child's locker with a visual, not even a few feet from my office, because he had trouble deciding which snack he wanted and was screaming in the hallway, because most of the time I was met with "I can handle this, I don't need you!" Once it was mandatory by our supervisor to implement as well as taught in our monthly workshop at the ISD, the lightbulb went on that it would work - but I had already left due to the stress of the workplace.
Negative talk about/among other professionals impacts collaboration which can cause one person or another to hold back necessary ideas to better a clients' life and can lower work morale. Negative talk about clients, especially in front of them or others who know/work with them, can cause anger or lower self-esteem and in some cases, legal ramifications. Negative talk about implementing strategies can cause one to lose their job, legal ramifications, or the client not reaching his or her full potential due to the opportunity to learn being robbed from him or her.
This was the case at 3/4 of the jobs I have worked at. Most of these people meant well and loved the clients/people they worked with despite venting or not understanding a key element of how to help the client. Even moreso, at all of these jobs, there were extremely positive and hard working individuals who tirelessly worked to better the atmosphere and education of people and clients in the workplace. Things that stand out to me still are the professionals who stayed after work to talk with caregivers, held tutoring sessions, had meetings about how to lessen gossip and negative talk in the workplace by having employees sign a contract, provided workshops for caregivers, and even left positive sticky notes/candy on desks to brighten someone's day.
This post is not meant to be depressing throughout but teach a lesson about how powerful it can be to be positive throughout the workday, even when you are having a rough time. The most recent place I worked at truly shows an incredible postivite difference from my stories above which I can't help but share.
I worked at an elementary school for about four months. I tried to come in with a positive outlook and blank slate. I wasn't sure how receptive anyone was going to be to having me, a completely different and new SLP, taking over while the other SLP was on maternity leave. The first thing I noticed was that I was greeted by everyone. Pretty normal so far, but definitely positive. What I really noticed started immediately - compliments in the hallway. Teachers were complementing other teachers on their looks, things they did in the classroom, ideas, and more. Teachers were complementing other students about their behavior in the hallway/classroom and thoughts/ideas. Everyone was asking about each other's weekends and would reference previous conversations. I thought, this school is very tightknit. I wasn't sure if this was an everyday thing, but sure enough, I would keep my office door open just to hear the compliments as people passed by. This really changed how often I gave compliments! Instead of giving a complement one or two times per day, I jumped at the opportunity to compliment ones' clothing, walking in the hallway, work in the classroom, etc. It just circled back, which made me feel more positive about what I did, share more ideas, build rapport, and collaborate with the other professionals. I also truly believe by being positive role models that we elicited more positive behavior and words from our students as well as compliments from one student to another.
Another thing that I noticed which was different from other places I had worked was the lack of gossip and venting in the teacher's lounge. It was so weird. I actually wanted to be social! People discussed their plans, their weekends, and rarely students. They were more focused on each other, using that time to build their own relationships. Sure, there was still a bit of venting or discussion of difficult situations (such as death in the family) in their lives, but the way it was discussed was different. No one blamed. Support and positive words were shared. People asked how they could help each situation.
The absolute best talk that I heard from professionals happened when I could tell they were having a difficult time with a student's behavior or finding a way to help them learn. I would walk into classroom after classroom and always ask how things were going with my students. Most often, a teacher would share a moment in which a child used a strategy I taught them or a moment of positive behavior. What happened next really impressed me. I'll use an example from one teacher in particular. "[This student] had a really rough day yesterday behavior-wise," she stated, "The classroom dynamic is different when she is not here. Oh my goodness, please don't take that the wrong way. I hope I didn't say anything wrong. I didn't mean that when she's gone that it is good or that I don't want her in my classroom. I miss her and I really want to figure out how I can help her learn better. Do you have any ideas or strategies I can implement?" This teacher truly cared and did not talk negatively about her student. Instead of complaining and resenting the student, she asked if I had any ideas/strategies to help. Whenever I see the teacher interact with the student, negative language is not used but discussion of when the student displayed positive behavior and had good consequences were brought up as well as what would happen if the behavior continued. No one was yelled at. Yes, the child had to be brought to a room to cool down, available for all gen-ed students, here and there as to not distract others, but hurtful/harmful words were not used. This teacher did implement some ideas and asked for more for other students, fostering a positive learning environment for her students.
Of course all teachers have stressful days and difficult times. Of course it is okay to vent! It is the way in which you talk, positive or negative, that is your choice. Think about how what you say will impact the client, an individual, a team, a group, a classroom, a district, a lawyer, etc. Is this how you want to portray yourself in the workplace? Is this how you want to teach? Is this how you want to work with others? I think about these things all the time. So when I am having a bad day or a client who is showing some negative behaviors, I find a time to go into my office, take a deep breath, have a chocolate/drink of water, and put back on my positive face. I can vent after school to my friends/family (of course keeping confidentiality) or into my pillow or a bowl of ice cream; but I will always keep on my smile and positive attitude in the workplace.
I hope that you enjoyed my story and that it causes you to think about how you talk in the workplace. Try giving more compliments or changing the way you think about a person's behavior. I hope you see a lot of positive changes in your life at work and after work. Trust me, I am a lot more peaceful and less stressed on a daily basis!
Now it's time to talk about how you can read more inspirational stories and win a prize from our bloggers! As you can see in the graphic above, the prizes for this blog hop are a $75, $30, or $15 Teachers Pay Teachers gift certificate! In order to enter to win this gift certificate, you must calculate the total of adding each number found on each blog together and enter it in the Rafflecopter form on the last blog with your information. Here's my number below:
Click on the following links (by clicking the images) to head to the first blog to start your way at the beginning of the hop, or to the next blog (if you are continuing on)! I hope you enjoy all of our stories and I hope to hear some of your own!