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Cynicism vs. negativity

by on
in Workplace Communication

Q. In reading your recent article“Shutting Down a Cynic,” I’m wondering if there’s a difference between a cynic and someone who has only negative comments or quips about 80 percent of the time. My boss is very negative, and her behavior is affecting the working relationship of our department with the rest of the company. It is also getting harder for me to shrug this off and try to stay positive. What can I do?

A. Your boss sounds like someone who’s downright negative, which is worse than just being cynical. Although you can’t change her personality, you can decide how you react to her. Most people who are fed up with negative speakers unintentionally indulge them by politely and mechanically nodding or otherwise signaling that they’re listening. The next time you hear her make a negative comment, respond with stone-faced silence. Don’t say a word, and don’t frown or otherwise register your disapproval with your facial expressions. No nodding or smiling, either. By greeting her negative remarks with complete indifference—and by responding to her rare positive statements with energy and enthusiasm—you will “train” her to speak more positively if she wants to feel connected to you. In terms of maintaining your own positive attitude, you need to find someone who’s receptive to your outlook (such as a colleague or mentor) to confide in.

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