See the Good and Turn Around a Bad Deal
Do you see a bad deal everywhere you look? If you do, you are not alone. It turns out that, in the realm of perception, bad is stronger than good. A comprehensive summary of research in how bad trumps good in our lives was published in The Review of General Psychology.
We remember a bad experience more vividly than a good one. We learn more quickly from punishment than from reward. An unkind word does more damage than a positive comment can repair. A bad first impression lasts longer than a good one.
Overall, bad events produce more emotion, have longer-lasting effects and exert a greater influence on our behavior. They are more enduring too. Once you see the young woman or old lady in the image it is next to impossible to see the other.
Psychologists speculate that our species developed this bias toward the bad as a survival mechanism. In a world of predators and menace, reacting to the bad clues paid off. And when bad things happened, something needed to change; survival favored the adaptive, and so our ancestors became hyper-alert to the bad.
But we no longer live in a world of tooth and claw. Today, our bias toward the bad can inhibit our development, blind us to opportunity and interfere with our relationships. It can cause us to see a problem as a threat, rather than an issue to be dealt with.
Appreciative Inquiry reverses our natural negative bias. It focuses on the positive: first identify what’s working and then build on that. Rather than trying to fix what’s wrong, develop what’s right.
Sounds easy, but it requires us to unlearn the lesson passed on to us by generations of surviving ancestors. That requires effort and discipline. Sometimes a trained coach can help.
I have been coaching Jose to shift his negative view of his new boss. Understandably paranoid about how his boss is treating him, Jose found himself vigilantly reacting to any perceived slight or power imbalance. His boss on the other hand found Jose to be “controlling and jealous.” They are on a collision course where Jose could end up being fired any moment.
Jose and I talked about the kinds of things that were happening that triggered bad feelings. A simple email from the assistant to one of his reports put him in an emotional tail spin: What did it mean? Were they trying to go around him? Were they planning to promote his direct report and demote him? The stress of such negative second guessing was resulting in mistakes; with that kind of thinking, getting fired could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I asked Jose: What if he looked at the email from the assistant from a positive vantage point? With that prompt, he could see that she might have been just trying to help and reacting to pressure coming from a tight time demand rather than from any other more pernicious agenda.
How could he respond if he acted on the positive spin? “I would thank the assistant and appreciate my direct report for stepping up to the request.” Needless to say, that is a different response from the impulse to act from the negative. And, the positive response just might save him from losing his job.
Jose knows that this is exactly what he needs to do every day and all the time. It feels good and is a lot less stressful. “I had a great week with my boss he wrote me.”
“But it is hard.” Yes, it is.
Coaching Questions to Ask Yourself: Where are you seeing the bad when you should be seeing the good? Ask three trustworthy people to point out your biggest blindspot? How can you act from trust rather than paranoia?
If you would you like to be coached on how to become more positive in your experiences with others contact Dr. Lynn K. Jones for a free coaching session.
P.S. Thanks in advance to anyone who chooses to share their stories of seeing things from the positive or who forwards this blog link to friends!
Dr. Lynn K. Jones is a Board Certified Coach and an Advanced Certified Personal and Executive Coach based in Santa Barbara, California and a sought after coach and consultant for organizations and individuals across the US. Her doctoral work completed at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University concerned organizational culture; she coaches, consults and trains organizations on what they need to do to create organizational cultures that are aligned with their vision and values using a process of Appreciative Inquiry. She coaches individuals on achieving their reflected best selves. A MSW@USC faculty member, Dr. Lynn K. Jones, MSW, DSW, CSWM, teaches Human Behavior and Social Environment and Leadership to social work students at the University of Southern California.
BCC Board Certified Coach #1487