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Stop It! – Behaviors You Must Stop to Become a Leader

Stop It! – Leadership Series Blog #3 – Veiled Negativity

By: Becky E. Zook RN, BSN, MS


In our second blog post of this leadership series, we identified the importance of self-awareness; the ability to recognize and control your emotions in any given situation (Morin, 2011). Self-awareness also includes the ability to recognize emotions in others and respond accordingly (Dispenza, 2014).

Now that you’ve practiced self-awareness and are learning to make YOU the center of your observations and responses, it is time to get real. Let’s break down the behaviors that are holding you back from being a great leader.

In this third installment of the Stop It! blog, we investigate an insidious type of negativity called veiled negativity. Veiled negativity takes on a few forms, from simple one-word answers to “Bless Your Heart” ostracism and “helpful” redirection of work where the motivation is that you believe you really do know better (Goldsmith, 2008). We review each Stop It! type and give examples of how to recover from these errors.

Examples of Veiled Negativity

Think of a time when you sat in a meeting or work session and presented an idea to the group. Your idea received a response something like this, “Thank you, Joe. That is a really helpful idea. Let me help you out here. We’ve tried that in the past, and here are the reasons why it won’t work. I really want to save you some time and frustration.” How did you feel? Was your colleague/boss helpful to you? What was your level of engagement in the project after this experience? This is an example of negativity disguised as helpfulness. 

Next, let’s say you are interviewing for a promotion with your organization’s Chief Operations Officer (COO). You’ve been with the company for over 2 years and are known for expertise in project management that surpasses your colleagues. For this reason, you believe you are the best choice. The COO asks you to rate your competitors and explain why they are not the best fit. You mention your colleague, Bob, who is a lovely person, is well respected but does not produce work at the same rate as you do. You say, “Look, Bob is a great guy. Everyone likes him, but his talent level doesn’t match mine. I know he tries really hard, he’s even come to me for advice, but in the end, he doesn’t have the skills to be the top in the department.” How do you think the COO will respond? Was this a positive or negative way to represent Bob, your trusted and respected colleague? Does managing the department mean you must be the top producer or the most well-respected? This is an example of veiled ostracism.

Lastly, you come to your supervisor with an idea to save the company money. You’ve spent much time researching the idea, have evidence-based resources to back up your theory, and even conducted a small pilot to show results. You pitch it to the supervisor with passion and enthusiasm. When you finish your presentation, your supervisor says, “Wow, that was impressive. But, the thing is, you see, we already have a proven method for savings, and what you are suggesting will cause more work before we see additional savings.” How are you feeling? Still excited or not? What was your supervisor really saying to you? This is an example of using But, No, However, and similar words stating to others I’m right, and you’re wrong, even if this wasn’t your intention.

How many times can you recall making these errors? Be honest with yourself. If you try to help others by telling them why things won’t work, you are guilty of veiled helpfulness. If you say things like, well, I know he or she really tries, or bless their heart, they just don’t get it, then you are guilty of veiled ostracism. Finally, if you answer questions or start sentences with No, But, or However, you are guilty of one-word veiled negativity.

How are you feeling now? Are you uncomfortable? Do you feel called out? I hope you are feeling this way because those feelings result from self-awareness. Good for you! Now, what do you do next?

Stop Veiled Negativity and Try This Instead.

It’s time to make the changes necessary to get out of this behavior pattern. You’ve already taken the first steps by admitting to yourself that you are guilty of committing veiled negativity. Your thought turns to “Isn’t everyone guilty of these actions? How come I’m the one that is held back in my career?”

Interesting question. We are here to discuss you, not others. You have the ability to change yourself and your career trajectory regardless of the way others behave. Comparing yourself to other people is a path to stagnation. In an article in Forbes (2017), the author shares her story of self-comparison and how it led to career and mental health issues. Exercising self-awareness means you become the center of your attention, constantly assessing and adjusting your thoughts and behaviors for the most positive experience (Goleman, 2005).

In his book Mojo, Marshall Goldsmith investigates the psychology of behavioral change that comes with self-awareness and the steps to regain your respect. For example, if you find yourself in a negative situation, you have two choices; change your environment or change your behavior (Goldsmith, 2014). If you want your career to flourish, work on yourself and see what amazing things happen. Note a caveat, if you are in a toxic workplace or are unsafe, please take the necessary steps to protect yourself and change your environment. You are too precious to your loved ones to suffer in those types of places.

What to do instead of veiled helpfulness.

In the example of Joe, where the boss claims to be helpful by explaining why the ideas won’t work, Joe, most likely, disengaged from the project and allowed the team to move on. The organization as a whole missed out on the experimentation of Joe’s idea, which may increase the knowledge capital of the group. It really doesn’t matter if Joe’s idea is perfect or not, it is the experimentation from which the team can benefit.

Let’s try the scenario again. Joe presents his idea to the group, and his boss responds, “Wow, Joe, those are great thoughts. I bet there is a golden nugget of knowledge in working through your ideas. Just because we tried it in the past doesn’t mean it won’t work now. How about you and I discuss the most effective way to experiment with your thoughts? That way, we can all learn and improve.”

How would you feel now if you were Joe? Excited? Proud? Valued? This manager expertly changed the conversation, made it known we have tried the idea in the past, and admitted it might be time to try again. By organizing a meeting with Joe to discuss the scope of the idea, the manager has control over resources and can use past experience to help guide the team. 

What to do instead of veiled ostracism.

In the interview with the COO, you point out Bob’s weaknesses and use them to advance your career, or so you think you did. A possible result is being passed over for the promotion. The ostracism of a colleague is unprofessional and speaks to the character of the person doing the ostracizing. No one wants to follow a leader who will throw them under the bus to forward his or her own career.

In a Harvard Business Review Behavioral Science article (2004), the authors state that the transference of positive emotions causes teams to produce more significant and more sophisticated work products. Those employees who had a positive emotional connection with supervisors were happier and more engaged in their work; a benefit to the individual and the entire organization. This means that to lead a team, you need to be a respected individual and not necessarily the top producer. No amount of instruction to a group will cause them to follow you if they do not respect you.

Looking at the interview again, the COO asks you to analyze your competitors and state why you are the best for the job. You answer, “I believe to be the best for the management position, you must be a great leader and not just a great producer. I have the production talent, and Bob has the talent for respect. I would like to learn more from Bob to blend together both talents. This is the type of manager the team really needs.”

What to do instead of one-word negativity.

This is a hard one for me! When I get lost in thought while talking, I can blurt out some negative words. Unfortunately, even when I try to control my words, my face can give me away. This is an area of self-awareness I have to practice every day. When you say a negative word like But, No, or However, your audience hears, I’m right, and you’re wrong. Some other words saying I’m right are actually, check your information, sorry to disagree, glitch, challenges, a different approach, and where did you hear that, to name a few.

How should you respond instead? You present your cost savings idea and pilot results to your supervisor, and the response is, “Wow! That was a great presentation. I want you to talk to George, our manager of cost savings. I believe the two of you may identify some improvements to take our program to the next level. Let’s set up that meeting, shall we?” Now how do you feel? Excited again? I know I would be!


Veiled negativity, in any form, is destructive for you, your career, your colleagues, and your organization. The only person who controls you is you. When you catch yourself committing forms of veiled negativity, take a deep breath, apologize to those who experienced your behavior, and take steps to improve. You might journal about the situation and how you can respond differently. You can also talk to a trusted friend, colleague, or career counselor about your struggles and practice different responses for the next time you encounter a similar scenario. Avail yourself of all resources within your reach. Removing veiled negativity from your life will be an uplifting experience.

What do you think? Do you struggle with veiled negativity? Share your story to help others on their journey. Email us at [email protected] to join the discussion.

For a free Professional Development Consulting Services consultation about veiled negativity or other concerns, visit and send a note!

Disclaimer: This blog represents the views, thoughts, and opinions of the author and not those of any other person, organization, or entity.


“27 Ways to Say, ‘You’re Wrong!’ As a Thought Leader.” Accessed July 9, 2023.

“Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza (Paperback Boo – Unlimited with Dr. Joe Dispenza.” Accessed July 9, 2023.

Daniel Goleman. Emotional Intelligence. Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. New York, NY: Bantam Dell, 2005.

Marshall Goldsmith. Mojo. How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back If You Lose It. New York, NY: Hatchette Books, 2014.

Marshall Goldsmith. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. London, EC1R 0JH: Profile Books Ltd., 2008.

“Self‐Awareness Part 1: Definition, Measures, Effects, Functions, and Antecedents – Morin – 2011 – Social and Personality Psychology Compass – Wiley Online Library.” Accessed July 9, 2023.

“When Comparing Yourself To Others Turns Self-Destructive.” Accessed July 9, 2023.

“Why People Follow the Leader: The Power of Transference.” Accessed July 9, 2023.

“Why People Follow the Leader: The Power of Transference.” Accessed July 9, 2023.

“Workplace Incivility, Lateral Violence and Bullying among Nurses. A Review about Their Prevalence and Related Factors – PMC.” Accessed July 9, 2023.

“Workplace-Based Organizational Interventions Promoting Mental Health and Happiness among Healthcare Workers: A Realist Review – PMC.” Accessed July 9, 2023.


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