The effects of negative and positive communication in the workplace

Dunja Jovanovic

Last updated on: January 20, 2022

Communication in the workplace can make or break the company.

Successful teams master the art of communicating with each other — they do it effectively and respectfully, not engaging in petty drama or frequent conflicts. As a result, their energy goes towards something positive and productive, bringing them good results.

Do you want to learn how to do that too? Keep reading!

In this article, we’ll learn what positive and negative communication is and how both of them can affect a workplace. We’ll also go over some tips on how to increase positive and decrease negative communication at work.

Positive and negative communication - cover

What is positive communication in the workplace?

Positive communication consists of interactions based on positive emotions, especially respect. Such communication requires you to be empathetic towards others and try to understand their point of view. This type of interaction is important because it builds trust and collaboration — which are some of the key elements for a successful team. 

Positive communication is also assertive, which means that you share your opinions and feelings without being overbearing or violating others. Assertive individuals value both themselves and other people — they can express themselves directly and honestly while still being respectful to others.

💡 Check out How to be more assertive in communication when working remotely.

Positive, effective communication consists of 7 Cs:

  1. Clarity — You can easily define the main message.
  2. Conciseness — Your speech is not rambling and lengthy, but short and straight to the point.
  3. Concreteness — There are examples and facts, so your audience has no trouble understanding your point.
  4. Correctness — There are no errors and you present your message in a way that fits your audience.
  5. Coherence — Your points logically connect to one another.
  6. Completeness — All relevant information is included.
  7. Courtesy — You communicate politely, friendly, and professionally.

If you master these communication skills, you’ll probably become someone everyone likes working with.

However, positive communication is more than just what you say.

Positive body language

Don’t forget about positive non-verbal cues, such as body language. Positive body language, also known as open body language, contributes to making us likable and making others feel comfortable with us. It typically consists of:

  • Leaning in — shows you’re interested,
  • An upright and open stance — shows you’re friendly, confident, and approachable ( according to a Forbes article, good posture is the most important body language signal for leaving a good impression),
  • Open palms — shows openness and honesty,
  • Direct eye contact — shows confidence and trust (but look away from time to time, as constant eye contact can be intimidating),
  • A firm handshake — shows interest and enthusiasm (but not too firm, as you don’t want to crush someone’s hand).

An example of positive communication in the workplace

To better understand positive communication in the workplace, let’s look at an example.

Jamie recently began working in a new company. 

At the first team meeting, everyone seemed friendly. They encouraged him to ask any questions he might have. No one thought his questions were silly (even though some of them probably were), and they responded quickly and kindly.

The team has regular team-building meetings, so Jamie got to know his coworkers and trust them. To his surprise, he wasn’t even micromanaged — they cared about results, so as long as he finished his tasks successfully, they trusted him and let him do his job.

Example of positive communication in Pumble, a team messaging app
Example of positive communication in Pumble, a team messaging app

Benefits and effects of positive communication

As you can imagine, positive communication has a lot of benefits.

Some of the most prominent ones include bridging possible cultural differences, building stronger connections among team members, and people being more pleasant to work with. Positive communication also contributes to creating a healthy work environment that encourages growth and increases motivation and productivity.

Let’s get into more detail about these benefits:

Positive communication builds stronger connections among team members

Positive interactions result in stronger connections. Trust is built through positive communication or, more specifically, through:

  • Transparency
  • Consistency
  • Honesty
  • Constructive feedback
  • Being supportive and willing to help
  • Showing interest
  • Taking accountability

All of this results in a team being closer and working better together.

Another perk is that positive communication keeps remote workers connected. When you’re physically far from each other, it can be challenging to keep everyone in the loop. But, it doesn’t have to be like that. All it takes is everyone making an effort to communicate regularly and transparently.

💡 If your team works remotely, you may find these articles useful: How to help your remote team feel more connected and 19 Best virtual team bonding activities for remote teams.  

Positive communication makes you pleasant to work with

Show me someone who doesn’t like to work with a respectful, honest, and professional person. I bet you can’t.

No matter what your job is, you’ll have to collaborate with people one way or another. Knowing how to communicate with them will get you far — professional skills are important, but they have to be combined with interpersonal skills to achieve maximum success.

💡 If you aim to become this kind of person, check out How to achieve respectful communication in the workplace and How to improve communication across generations at work.

Positive communication contributes to a healthy workspace culture

As this Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology article stated, effective communication is the cornerstone of all healthy workplace cultures.

A healthy workspace is one where employees feel valued, safe, connected, and have an opportunity to grow. 

When communication flows properly, the workspace environment gets more harmonious. There are no unresolved conflicts, built-up resentment,  or drama — so, the energy can be focused on something productive. 

Positive communication encourages growth, creativity, and innovation

Positive communication includes regular, constructive feedback. Such feedback creates fertile soil for constant growth and steady improvement, which benefits both the individual and the whole team.

💡 Not sure how to give good feedback? Our blog post How to give constructive feedback when working remotely might help.

What is more, when employees feel secure and valued, they are more likely to let their creativity flow freely. As Patricia Riddell, Professor of Applied Neuroscience (PR) said for the Oxford Group article, “the psychological safety is the key to creativity and innovation in the workplace.” She further elaborated that when you don’t feel safe, a lot of your energy goes towards protecting your identity at work. When you don’t need to do that, that energy goes towards coming up with better ideas.

Positive communication increases motivation and productivity

A positive work environment results in increased motivation and productivity. 

As the University of Phoenix research states, “Effective teams have teammates who are constantly talking to one another. Communication increases commitment and connection, they in turn fuel action.” 

Open, honest, and regular communication is the key to keeping employees motivated and productive.

Positive communication helps bridge possible cultural differences

If you work in a multicultural environment, there might be some cultural barriers to cross — and positive communication helps with that immensely. 

It creates a safe and accepting atmosphere that encourages people to be more understanding. Good communicators approach the unknown with an open mind and put effort into learning about other cultures. As a result,  they have less trouble with misunderstandings and confusion.

It’s important to be patient, respectful, and avoid jargon — and the rest will fall into place

What is negative communication in the workplace?

Negative communication is unclear and confusing — there’s a discrepancy between what’s said and what’s understood. 

People who communicate negatively often don’t listen — they just wait for their turn to talk.

Here’s what you need to know about negative communication, so you can recognize it in yourself and others.

Let’s start from the beginning.

There are four basic styles of communication — passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. Assertive communication is a form of positive communication (which we discussed previously in this article) — the first three communication styles, however, belong to negative communication.

  1. Passive communication — implies individuals fail to express their opinions, protect their rights, and identify their needs. They typically exhibit poor posture and avoid eye contact. They feel anxious, hopeless, uncomfortable, and resentful (although they’re not always aware of the last one).
  2. Aggressive communication — implies someone who is advocating for their needs and wants in a way that violates the needs and wants of others. They tend to criticize, humiliate, attack, and interrupt others. Their tone of voice is loud, demanding, and overbearing.
  3. Passive-aggressive communication — appears passive, but actually expresses anger and frustration. It’s indirect — instead of clearly expressing their feelings, they subtly undermine the subject of their resentment. Passive-aggressive individuals use sarcasm, subtly sabotage others, and deny there is a problem. They also tend to make facial expressions that don’t match how they feel (e.g. smiling when they’re clearly upset).

As is the case with positive communication, negative communication also does not end with its verbal manifestations.

Negative body language

You can participate in negative communication even if you don’t say anything — sometimes, body language speaks louder than words.

Negative or closed body language signals negative emotions — dissatisfaction, lack of confidence, boredom and nervousness, just to name a few.

Here are some examples of body language cues you should be aware of:

  • Crossed arms — shows defensiveness or discomfort,
  • Avoiding eye contact — shows nervousness, dishonesty, low self-esteem, or lack of confidence,
  • Poor posture — shows a lack of confidence, interest, and/or ability,
  • Covering your mouth — shows a lack of confidence,
  • Rapid finger tapping and fidgeting — shows nervousness and/or boredom (however, it may also mean someone suffers from anxiety or ADHD — so don’t label someone as rude just based on these movements).

An example of negative communication in the workplace

Let’s paint another picture as an example.

Remember Jamie from earlier? Imagine if he started working in a company where communication is negative.

The team leader pushes his team to work their hardest and often criticizes them. 

Until adjusting to his new workplace, Jamie was asking questions, since no one communicated any directions and/or expectations to him. 

His coworkers seemed annoyed every time they had to answer, so after a while, he stopped asking. 

To avoid conflicts, he kept contact with his team to a minimum. 

He felt lost and frustrated — no one was interested in helping him, yet they expected the best possible results.

Example of negative communication in Pumble, team messaging app
Example of negative communication in Pumble, team messaging app

Now, what kind of consequences would this kind of communication bring?

Effects of negative communication in the workplace

Negative communication in the workplace promotes a toxic work environment, leads to diminished productivity and stress, and causes conflicts among teammates. It also decreases job satisfaction rates and increases employee turnover rates.

Let’s look at these problems in more detail.

Negative communication promotes a toxic work environment

Communication is a big part of the atmosphere in the workplace. Positive communication makes a healthy work environment, while negative communication goes hand in hand with a toxic one.

How do you know that a workplace is toxic?
It’s dysfunctional, growth is stifled, and often, there is bullying. Employees are stressed out and overworked, while bosses don’t seem to care. 

Other hallmarks of a toxic work environment include bad leadership, lack of enthusiasm, drama between coworkers, frequent burnout, and a poor work-life balance. Another telltale sign is having a bad gut feeling every time you’re at work — the one that feels like having a knot in your stomach.

Negative communication diminishes productivity 

Negative communication results in lower productivity. There are several possible causes:

  • Unclear expectations — you’re not sure what you have to do, as no one told you;
  • Inability to ask questions — your questions are met with defensiveness or dismissed;
  • Withheld information — no one shares important information with you;
  • Stressful environment — the atmosphere in the workplace is negative and everyone is competing with each other.

In these conditions, doing your best is next to impossible. If you’re not feeling good, it’s likely that your performance won’t be good either. 

According to WebMD, stress can cause a number of health issues, including headache, chest pain, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, and inability to focus. 

When you have any of these symptoms, the quality of your work isn’t exactly the most prominent thing on your mind.

Negative communication causes conflicts among teammates

Negative communication provokes a lot of negative emotions — frustration, resentment, defensiveness, annoyance, and overall dissatisfaction.

When a group of people doesn’t foster open, empathetic communication, some of the following is likely to happen:

  • Placing the blame on others
  • Taking credit for something one didn’t do
  • Gossiping
  • Seeing everyone as competition
  • Always criticizing others and never praising them

In that kind of environment, it doesn’t take a lot to stir the pot, and conflicts are often unavoidable.

Negative communication decreases job satisfaction rate and increases employee turnover rate

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that negative communication and related stress cause people to dislike their job and, ultimately, leave it. This claim is also backed up by science — according to research, 40% of job turnover is due to stress.

Additionally,  various studies show that job satisfaction and employee turnover go hand in hand — job satisfaction is inversely related to turnover intention. 

That makes sense — as you’re far more likely to leave a bad workplace than the one you really like.

Tips for increasing the positive and decreasing the negative in workplace communication

Have you recognized your team in the part about negative communication? 

Not everything is lost — here are some tips to increase positive and decrease negative in workplace communication.

Choose the proper medium of communication

When you’re trying to communicate something, think about what is the best medium to do so. You can communicate via:

  • Face-to-face conversation (if you’re not working remotely)
  • Audio call
  • Video call
  • Email
  • Sending a message on a team messaging app

When choosing, think about the length of the message, how fast you need a response, and how busy you and the other person are. 

If you need to exchange a lot of the information quickly, it’s best to give them a call. On the other hand, if you want them to send you a document when they get the chance, opt for sending them a message or email.

Set clear work expectations

Set expectations at the very beginning of your team’s joint work. This way, everyone has a clear idea of:

  • what is their role, 
  • what is the team goal, and 
  • what is the plan on how to achieve that team goal. 

Clear expectations will save you from a lot of potential misunderstandings, confusion, and setbacks.

Respect both yourself and others

Positive communication requires you to respect both yourself and others.

What does that mean?
Respect yourself by being assertive and clearly communicating your thoughts, opinions, and feelings. 

Respect others too, by being empathetic and polite. 

You’re not better nor worse than the person you’re talking to — both of you deserve to be heard and understood.

Be aware of your body language

We’ve already discussed what positive and negative body language is. 

So, think about what your body language signals to others — confidence and openness or insecurity and nervousness? 

For a “quick fix”, improve your posture first — pull back your shoulders, keep your chin up, and straighten your back. 

Also, try to move a little slower — as fast movements make you appear more anxious.

Be a good listener

Being good at listening is an underrated, but very valuable skill.

Active listening means that you are attentive and fully concentrated on what’s being said. 

You don’t interrupt the speaker, but you do give them feedback and ask questions to ensure you understand what they’re trying to say.

This way, not only will you avoid misunderstandings, but you’ll also make others feel valued — which will help you earn their trust.

Be fully present in the conversation

Think before you speak — make sure you choose the right words that will get your point across as clearly as possible. Besides, give others your full attention and actively listen to them (as we discussed in the heading above).

It’s also important that you keep an open mind and give others the benefit of the doubt. If someone says something that doesn’t sit right with you, don’t immediately jump to conclusions — ask and clarify what they mean.

Don’t compete with the person you’re talking to

People are often trying to “win” when they’re talking to someone — they want to dominate the conversation, be in the right, and have the last word. 

Don’t do that.

Don’t think of others as your competition, but as your collaborators — help each other identify the problem and find the solution together. 

It’s not you vs. them, it’s you (as a team) vs. the problem. 

This approach makes the conversation constructive and efficient, instead of making it an ego battle.

Reword your negatives into positives

The way you word what you want to say also has an impact. So, try to rephrase negative sentences into positive ones and see if you feel the difference. 

For example, instead of “Sorry for being late”, try saying “Thank you for your patience.

Focus on what can be done instead of what cannot, on the good sides of the situation instead of the bad sides.

 Here are some more examples:

Negative languagePositive language
“Can’t complain, I guess.”“Everything is going well!”
“Sorry, it won’t be done this week.”“You can pick it up next week!”
“Not bad.”“Good job!”
“We’re not used to being supervised.”“We prefer working more independently.”
“You can’t submit a request without that document.”“I would be happy to approve your request, you just need to send me that document first.”

Conclusion: It’s worth putting in the effort into communicating positively

Everyone has their own definition of success. If yours is anything like mine, in addition to earning a good salary, of course, you likely want to:

  1. do the job you like in a pleasant environment, and
  2. collaborate with nice and professional people.

The key to all that is positive communication — all successful teams know how to communicate with each other in a way that makes collaboration easy and creates a pleasant work environment.

So, it’s worth putting in the effort to communicate more positively, if you don’t do that already. The most important elements are respect, empathy, active listening, and assertiveness — if you’re not sure where to start, try implementing these four first.

Author: DunjaJovanovic

Dunja Jovanovic is a writer and researcher passionate about communication and psychology, especially in a professional setting. As she's no stranger to working remotely, she likes helping others survive in a virtual work environment and communicate as effectively as possible. When she's not writing, she's probably trying out the communication improvement strategies she stumbled upon during her never-ending research.

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