How to Stop Negativity in your Organization

July 22, 2008

Posted in Management.

Negativity, Yay!

Board meetings are shining points of optimism and positive energy. Nobody gets angry or frustrated, nobody holds their head in their hands, and there’s never any yelling. People are happy to be there, of course, so board member attendance is always 100%.

Ha. What a load of crap.

If you’ve been involved with any not-for-profit, you know what really happens.

In reality, board meetings are the outlet for all of the frustration accrued in the organization. Attendees often feel drained and depressed. It’s hard to see light at the end of the tunnel. And if you can’t see any light, you certainly can’t gauge your progress.

All this negativity takes its toll. It drains you. It increases burnout. Volunteers get frustrated, board members quit. You lose momentum.

Fight back. Fight hard.

Look at the Silver Lining

You have to find the silver lining in every situation, and then point that out. Even if you’re the negative guy in the room, you can look at any given problem and find some positive that can come out of it. It takes a bit of practice, but the payoff is a more balanced view of any scenario.

Frustration is a good thing

Frustration is the result of energy expended without progress. It tells you that people still care and are still trying. It would be far worse if your volunteers were apathetic. The trick is to show positive progress and momentum – give people light at the end of the tunnel and they’ll find a way out.

Be a leader

Leadership is a lot of things, but one critical factor is direction. Have a direction, show how to get there, and then give people the tools to start moving. For some, this means strategic planning.

If you have more than one leader, it’s likely you’ll end up with a couple of different directions. Get your leaders on the same page by starting small and finding compromise. Explain that leaders of the organization needs to agree with themselves before the rest of the group will follow along. Find common ground and then march together.

Action wins

Ever hear of “analysis paralysis?” It sums up exactly why so many projects struggle. Decisions get lost in committees. Few people want to make hard decisions and live with the consequences. Or be accountable for them when the decision was wrong. So they don’t do anything at all. Well, guess what? Inaction is the wrong decision.

Instead, you need to appoint someone the final owner of any project, decision, etc. Force the vote. Sometimes it’s as simple as making a decision and running with it. But action, even in the wrong direction, can be better than inaction.

Have a Mission Moment

In every meeting, you absolutely have to present some positive outcome. Kay Sprinkel Grace calls this a “mission moment,” and I find it’s very helpful in taking the heat out of a negative situation.

This could just be a story of some impact your organization made. A presentation from one of your program directors. It could be a child coming in and speaking to your board directly. These are the stories and images that your donors, volunteers, and staff remember. A successful mission moment takes you out of the board room and into the mission, reminding everyone why they’re involved in your organization in the first place.

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