Q: I'm more negative than I'd like when I go into new situations or meet new people. I'm hypercritical, not on purpose, but it gets things off on the wrong foot. By the time I see the positives, I sometimes have some damage to undo. How do I change this characteristic?

Celice, 47, director of administration

A: Start catching yourself right away so that you can begin to build a new approach.

Imagine how things would be if you noticed right away that you were falling into this pattern. You could then pause and at least remain neutral.

Or, if you still had the negative reactions, you could keep yourself from behaving in ways that will cause problems.

Get energized by thinking about the benefits that you'd see. Get excited about this change so that you've got motivation.

You'll need this for the hard work of changing a persistent habit.

And now look backward, reflecting on past times where you started negative and then saw the good in a situation or person. What were your first thoughts? What triggered the negativity? I wonder if you felt threatened or anxious. Then negativity could be a kind of protective response.

If that's the case, as the situations become more familiar, you may let your guard down and see the positives.

Now move to the present and take steps to change.

The next time you are about to go into a new situation, prepare yourself to enter with an open mind.

Think about all the things that could go right and all the reasons to have a positive perspective.

Be aware of your triggers so that as the event unfolds, you're not reflexively falling back into your negative mind-set. If you catch yourself lapsing, take a couple of breaths and break the pattern.

This sounds so simple, but it likely won't be easy. Take stock of your successes and times you've fallen short, thinking them through so that you can continue to develop your skills.

Be kind to yourself in this. It will be very tempting to turn your tendency to negativity against yourself, but that will not support growth.

Then make amends. You've said you sometimes have damage to undo. Have you genuinely done so, or have you left messes in your wake?

This calls for a willingness to show vulnerability and openness.

I think you'll find that the simple act of acknowledging shortcomings will help you build bridges and begin to regain trust.

Only, however, if you offer genuine apologies. None of the fake apologies that have become so common. Try this formula: "I did ____. It caused you harm, and I am sorry. I will do better"

After that, your behavior needs to change. Again, be transparent, letting people around you know that you're on a personal development path to let go of your negative ways.

Sure, there's risk here. People may not be receptive, may be angry or may reject your overtures.

However, they're doing this anyway, you're just not aware of it.

It doesn't matter; your priority needs to be on being the person you want to be now and moving forward. This is the path to successful relationships.

What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and owner of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at liz@deliverchange.com.