What are the signs your negativity has tipped too far? There are several warning signs that I plan on sharing, but before I do, I had a negativity moment over the weekend that has stuck with me. On Saturday morning, I was in the drive thru line at McDonald’s, picking up breakfast for my family when it happened. The car in front of me pulled forward so, naturally, I inched my car ahead to take the now available spot. About the same time I made my move, out of the corner of my eye I noticed an older couple walk out of the restaurant and step off the curb about twenty feet away from me. Even though there was some distance between us, the woman was apparently quite irritated with me for not seeing them sooner and for continuing to move my car into position. After my car did finally come to rest in the drive thru line, she walked in front of my car, proceeded to yell at me and then hit the hood of my old Ford Explorer with her fist. Stunned, I didn’t know what to do. She continued to yell at me incomprehensibly as she passed my Ford and proceeded to her car across the parking lot. I finally snapped out of my fog and rolled down my window to hear what she was trying to say. After she was done, I said to her, “ma’am, you hit the hood of my car. That was not nice.”(I know… I’m so tough) She blasted back at me, “you need to stop when people are crossing the road!” Meanwhile, as all of this was transpiring, her husband calmly left his angry spouse and walked behind my car, crossed the parking lot and sat down in the passenger seat of their car waiting for her to finish. She finally got in her car, backed out quickly and slammed on the brakes as she ironically almost hit an approaching car.

Why do I share this story with you? Simple. While I did not drop to her level of yelling, screaming and hitting of cars, I wanted to. For a large part of the day on Saturday, I replayed the event in my mind adding in the addition of several “perfect” responses ranging from me hitting the hood of her car to see how she liked it to deflating her logic by reminding her that a parking lot is not a road and her assault on my vehicle was police worthy. That’s the problem with negativity. It is contagious. We have a natural tendency to “match levels” and default to where the other person is at. And it can linger with us for hours (if not days) later. So what might be signs that you are like the car assailant in my story? Consider the following signs:

Signs You May Be Negative

  •  Are you “harshing other people’s mellow?”  Kudos to my cool wife for actually using this phrase in conversation yesterday. The reason? She was dreading the prospect of spending time with a friend of hers because of the constant negativity that oozes from their pores. You may be “harshing other people’s mellow” if you’ve either noticed a drop-off of invites from others or, more to the point, someone has actually told you your negativity is tough to take.
  • Are you in a negative profession?  Not all professions are created a like. There are some that naturally default to a “glass half empty” view of humanity and the world. For example, many roles in the legal profession, credit / commercial lending, finance, compliance and even H.R. often assume that people will screw you over if you don’t watch them close. I had a student once tell me that when she worked in commercial credit (commercial lending for businesses), she was told by coworkers to get married as quickly as possible or she would become so jaded by the profession that she would never trust anyone enough to ever think about getting married not to mention the constant negativity she was likely to bring to every date. If you find yourself in one of these professions, the burden that is on you is to leave the negativity at the office. Trust me, your kids and spouse don’t want to be constantly “caught” doing something incorrect and accused of lying, cheating, or general deception at every turn. Definitely not a good strategy.
  • Do you give more negative feedback to others than positive? Whether we are talking about work or at home, the research is consistent. You should be giving about five times MORE positive feedback than you do negative (5:1 ratio). More to come on the research later this month, but needless to say, if your negative feedback is exceeding your positive feedback, you’re about to lose listeners (if you haven’t already). People can only take so much.
  • In a typical interaction, is the first thing out of your mouth a complaint? Think back to your casual conversations. Are you typically working in a complaint in just about every conversation? Not sure? How about this more specific question: When was the last time you complained at a restaurant? If you can’t remember, then you are probably good to go. If, however, you immediately thought to yourself, “Do you mean about the service, the food quality or where I was sitting? It would be different levels of frequency for each.” If you have enough “data” to categorize them into different buckets, the answer and my point is clear.


Not sure if you are “harshing other people’s mellow?” The first step in any self-awareness process is to notice. Spend some time over the next week just noticing your interactions with others. And as part of noticing how you might be interacting, be careful not to judge yourself. In other words, don’t turn your own negativity against you. Simply notice judgment free. The goal is to gauge if this has become a severe problem that may bring heavy costs or if you are just suffering from the occasional bad day.

Next up, we will be tackling what you can do at work and at home to keep negativity in check. In the meantime, do me one favor: avoid slamming your fist onto the hood of someone else’s car. Trust me. It won’t make you feel better. At least I don’t think so…