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Embracing Negativity to Improve Work Environments

Section Editor(s): Donnelly, Gloria F. PhD, RN, FAAN, FCPP; Editor-in-Chief

doi: 10.1097/HNP.0000000000000268
From the Editor

The author has disclosed that she has no significant relationships with, or financial interest in, any commercial companies pertaining to this article.



As my colleague and I reviewed the minutes of the meeting, I commented on the negativity of 2 of the group members. “Perhaps we would have made more progress in getting the problems solved if Jo and Beth had not been so negative.” My colleague, who was 20 years' my senior in leadership positions, gently rebutted, “I have learned over the years to listen intently to the negative points made in any meeting and to sift the message from the tone. Negativity often points us to the most direct strategies for problem solving and it must be balanced against the positive forces that often maintain the status quo.” Since then, even in this era of positive psychology, I will chance expressing the opposing view and even the righteous retort. And, it is risky to sound negative in environments trying to heal, improve, and be kinder and gentler no matter the ultimate goal. Have organizations gone too far in emphasizing positive and conflict-free approaches to problem-solving in the work environment? Hedges asserts that, “The loneliness of work life where self-preservation is valued over authenticity and one must always be upbeat and positive, no matter what one's actual mood or situation, is disorienting and stressful.”1

Embracing negativity and putting it to good use can create a more balanced work environment. I can recount countless times when faculty and staff have petitioned for various considerations so that their lives would be “more balanced,” more time for family, exercise, and downtime. We need the same level of balance at work, more freedom to speak out against what we see as wrong, unjust or dysfunctional, even if we have to blurt it out—the sophisticated negative expression will evolve with practice.

For 3 decades, the cover of Holistic Nursing Practice has borne the Taijita2 or yin-yang, the symbol of duality, balance and the interplay of opposing forces in the flow of life. The undulating line that bisects the Yin-Yang connotes constant change, as life situations move from sunny to shadowy, strong to weak, and negative to positive. The next time you witness a colleague expressing the negative view, listen carefully, question for clarity, and sift the possibilities from the emotion. And, every now and then, express your own negative views to keep that undulating line moving until creative solutions are reached.

—Gloria F. Donnelly, PhD, RN, FAAN, FCPP


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1. Personal Tao. What is Yin-Yang? Accessed January 18, 2018.
2. Hedges C. Empire of Illusion. New York, NY: Nation Books; 2009;138–139.
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