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Overcoming a negative reputation in 4 easy steps

negative reputation

Just 37 easy steps

Normally this time of year, I would post on the topic of inappropriate Halloween costumes and make a prediction of what NSFW characters are going to show up at the company and create a negative reputation.  I have done that a few times over the years and those posts are listed here:

2011:  How HR views Halloween costumes

2012:  Celebrities of 2012 that made the news and employee costume list

2013:  How costumes affect your career

2014:  Tasteless costumes of 2014

Been there, done that. Moving on. 

In last weeks’ post, we shared examples of language that was well-intentioned but often interpreted as a negative attitude. Negative language doesn’t mean we have a negative attitude. It is easy for the intent and impact of our message to be inconsistent. What we say and what the listener experiences can be two different messages. Last week I provided specific examples of how we can unintentionally come across with a negative attitude. We also provided examples of how to communicate the same negative statement with a positive message.  

I don’t believe anyone is purposefully negative, but if we come across as having a poor attitude, our careers will stall.

This week I share a method for overcoming any perceived reputation for a weakness that may be holding back your career. This methodology works. I have seen it work many times and it is adaptable. These simple steps can be used for changing perception on just about any weakness. For today’s example, we will use the desire to overcome a “negative attitude” reputation.  

Below are the 37 steps needed overcome most weaknesses. (there are only 5)

  1. Reset expectations with your audience*
  2. Give examples of what new behavior will look like
  3. Enlist help from your audience
  4. Check in with your audience
  5. Rinse, lather, repeat

*Audience can be your team, your manager, customer or your peers. Often, it is our manager whose opinion matters the most. 

If you are thinking “HRNasty, you are a dumbass. If you want to shed a reputation for a negative attitude, just don’t be negative.”  You are probably are not alone in your thinking. (I know that attitude is a teensy bit negative. Hear me out people’s.) I only wish it were this easy. If it were that easy, everyone would get along and we wouldn’t need the HR department. I am working my way out of a job as we speak. Booyah! 

There are a couple of problems with the “Just stop the bad behavior” approach. We as individuals know we are changing our attitude. Unfortunately, because we have already established our brand as a negative person, it’s what the audience expects and looks for. Because we branded ourselves in a way that identifies us as negative, we need to go about marketing a new image. It isn’t us as individuals we need to convince. We need to convince our audience that we are changing. Our prior behavior has already been ingrained in our audience. Our colleagues come to us with the preconceived notion that we are going to display negative behavior. When they are expecting negativity, negativity will be seen. We need to break the cycle.   

37 steps

If we THINK we have a negative attitude, we probably do. If you suspect you have a negative attitude, your manager is not only aware of it, they are hyper-sensitive to it. Your negative attitude affects their day-to-day. The reason they aren’t going to bring it up with you? They don’t want to deal with your negative attitude.  DOH!!!

It is an easy reputation to overcome.  Just follow the 37 step process below.

1:  Reset expectations:

Explain the following to your intended audience:

“I have been thinking a lot about my career. My goal is to get into (management, more opportunity, your goal here.) and know I need to change my negative attitude. Moving forward, I need to be more positive. I would like your help and am going to work on how I am perceived moving forward.”

2: Give examples of what new behavior looks like

“These are some examples of the things I am going to start trying differently. Moving forward, I am going to try to stop using the word “NO”, and instead use “Yes, if. . .”. I am going to try to use the word “we” instead of “You” and “Me”. I believe the word “We” denotes teamwork.  “You” and “Me” insinuates two opposing teams. I am going to try to be encouraging instead of putting ideas down”.    

This does a few things for us:

  1. Breaks the cycle of what the listener is expecting. It changes their focus from an expectation of negativity to an expectation of a better attitude.
  2. Shows initiative to your manager on your self-improvement.
  3. Plants the seed that you want to be a manager / more opportunity / etc.
  4. Commits you to the change in communication style (manager will be on the watch for a difference in behavior)
  5. Your manager can start to sell your positive changes to the VP or department head.

3: Ask for help from your audience

“If you see me projecting a negative attitude or body language, can you help me with feedback and alternative ways of presenting myself? I consider you a role model and know I could learn from you.” 

The above may sound a bit over the top, but you get the idea. Get them engaged in your efforts. This gets the manager on your side. Instead of being sensitive to negativity and expecting a bad attitude, this changes their focus. They become an ally.

4:  Check in with your manager

Schedule a check in with your manager after a couple of weeks. Let them know what progress you have made, let them know what you have learned and what you are going to try to do over the next couple of weeks to continue on your path to nirvana. This is a retrospective and all managers love retrospectives.

This allows them to become participatory in your journey. It changes their status from a bystander waiting for you to fall on your face to that of a Sherpa helping you summit Everest. Someone who can help you achieve your goal.

Example number 2

The above steps can be applied with a little adaptation to anything. Have a reputation for being a weak public speaker and want to shed that perception?

Reset expectations: Explain to your manager that we understand we are weak in public speaking. We know public speaking will help us achieve our goals and is holding us back.

  1. Examples of new behavior: Give them examples of what to look for in your next public speaking engagement. “I am going to use the entire room vs. just standing behind the podium and I am going to use fewer “umm’s” and “you know’s” in my speech.
  2. Ask for Feedback: Ask your manager to listen to a practice run of your presentation and provide feedback.
  3. Check in with your manager after the presentation or meeting. Give them a status update and let them know what you are going to work on at your next presentation.

Trust me, the above can be done. Changing behavior isn’t enough because until our audience is made aware of the change, they are not going to notice and our negative reputation continues to suffer.

Requisite dating example

Let’s say you and your significant other are fighting because yesterday was garbage day and we forgot to take out the garbage. The usual argument ensues. He says, “Wednesday is garbage day. Last Wednesday was garbage day and the Wednesday before that was garbage day. What part of Wednesday do . . . . blah, blah, blah”.

If we tell ourselves and only ourselves we are not going to forget about the garbage next Tues, our significant-other is STILL going into the situation expecting us to forget. Things go much better if we admit that we forgot, explain we will handle our business next Tuesday AND ask for a help.

So, if you have a weakness or negative reputation that you want to overcome, think about the above 37 step process.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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