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By Cindy Krischer Goodman

RISMEDIA, Oct. 29, 2008-(MCT)-It’s easy to complain right now. We are wondering which bank is going to fail next or whether gas prices will shoot up again. We’re questioning how our businesses and jobs will survive.

Workers are anxious and paranoid as the layoff process drags on for months. And most of us are putting in more hours than ever, struggling more with work/life balance. It is a huge challenge to stay positive.

But now is the time to take on the challenge because negativity is contagious. It spreads through companies hurting performance and productivity. It permeates our home lives and infects relationships. To better cope, psychologists and experts say, we need to focus on positive actions, create a revised vision for our future and avoid pity parties at all costs.

“There’s a lot about this financial hurricane that we can’t control, but we can control how we face our own set of challenges,” says Jon Gordon, consultant and author of several books including “The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work.”

Bert Oliva, a Miami motivational speaker, advises getting in a positive mind frame before you leave home. In this troubled economy, Oliva pumps himself up with inspirational messages on Post It notes on his bathroom mirror before heading out to inspire others. Oliva has seen attendance at his seminars drop significantly in recent months.

Rather than complaining, Oliva says he has gone back to the basics-making phones calls, connecting with people in person, building new relationships. “I did research. I know what my competition is doing and I’m working harder.”

He’s also working differently, becoming more proactive and open to new approaches. Instead of putting on one-day seminars and corporate workshops, he’s doing motivational house parties. “I’ve got to do what it takes right now.”

At the root of much of today’s workplace negativity is fear. And nothing causes employee fear more than tight-lipped managers lurking in the shadows with pink slips. A poll recently released by think tank Elliot Masie shows 85% of respondents feel some economic anxiety in their workplace and 29% experience severe or high anxiety in their workplaces.

What can employers do? Ramp up communication-hold weekly meetings, send out newsletters or e-mail, talk about the fears, Gordon says. “Even if things are great, people are still nervous.” When there’s a void in communication, he says, “negativity fills the void.”

Because things are particularly bleak in the financial sector, Charles Schuette, chairman of Miami’s Coconut Grove Bank, knows now is the time for some clear communication and positive leadership. At a staff meeting, he explained how the mortgage crisis has minimally affected the bank’s financial condition and how the bank has tightened its loan policy criteria to ensure a better future. “I told them the bank has no intent at this time to do any layoffs. I think that relaxed them.”

But Schuette didn’t stop there. He roams the bank regularly, talking to staff. “I want to know their concerns and address them.”

Mark Wilbur, president and CEO of Employers Group, a nonprofit human resources advocacy in California, says employers should articulate an action plan.

If this is a challenging time for your company, don’t hide it, Wilbur says. Let staff know the new goals or vision for the future and what each person can do to help the company get there. “Employees need a sense of hope,” he says.

To offset pessimism, some leaders help their customers with strategy.

When Paul Thompson took over as CEO of the Florida Home Builders Association in October, he knew his membership had been decimated and bad morale permeated his troubled industry.

So, he’s going on the road with a “strike force” of people to inspire his members: “I’m trying to help them focus on where the areas of opportunity are-the remodeling industry, the green building movement, commercial construction.”

He also plans to encourage them with the benefits of less competition: “They can get things built quicker because there is more help available.”

For the average worker, staying upbeat could be as simple as steering clear of the office water-cooler whinefests.

“Before you gripe about something, stop and think of one or two suggestions to fix the problem,” Gordon suggests.

Workplace expert Bill Treasurer, a consultant and coach specializing in courage-building, offers some tips:

– Refocus on your work. Get clear on what needs to be done–right here, right now–and go about the business of doing it.
– Stop playing it safe. While everyone else is hiding, you can stand up and stand out–getting noticed for your talent and contributions.
– Form a posse. Create an inner circle–a small group of co-workers whom you can trust and turn to when the going gets really rough. Take turns being “the positive one.”
– Find a productive distraction that makes you feel better–a little stronger or braver. U2 on your iPod? Identify that one little thing–your own personal “fear buster”–and use it early and often.
– Just say “no” to the pity party. It’s tempting to commiserate with co-workers. Don’t do it.

Crisis management expert Davia Tamin offers these suggestions:

– Start thinking how you can add value to your organization.
– Go in to the boss with new ideas. Be proactive.
– If you are the boss, rally the troops.

Cindy Krischer Goodman is a workplace columnist for The Miami Herald and weekly television guest on Miami’s CBS station.

© 2008, The Miami Herald.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.