Don’t be negative. Most people agree with that statement. We see being negative as bad. If you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything. Well, I don’t agree. While presenting your ideas in a constructive way is helpful, I don’t agree with those that try to discourage negative comments.

I understand that the psychology of many people has lead them to want confirmation and to dislike criticism of ideas they propose. And I understand our society has re-enforced the desire to see criticism as bad. Using better words and phrasing your comments more effectively to make your points and avoiding being seen as negative is good). But I wish more people objected to bad ideas instead of just letting them go because they were afraid of being seen as negative.

Yes it would be nice if they objected in some wonderfully polished way. It would however also be nice if people were not so insecure that criticizing an idea required being very careful not to be seen as negative. And if I have to focus on improving one thing (in an organization) it would be how poorly people react to a negative comment rather than trying to avoid negative comments. Now, in reality we don’t have to chose one, we can do both, but the choice I would make shows where I see the larger problem today.

People should try to be constructive with criticism. I don’t think there are many people that disagree with that. However, I think people need to learn how to encourage people to criticize their ideas. We want more people providing their thoughts, not less. And what I see most often from people objecting to “negative” comments is an attempt to discourage raising legitimate issues, using the claim of “negativity.” Obviously this is not always the case. But that is the problem I see far more often than the problem of someone that is just negative.

I want people to be open to new ideas. I want them to explore new opportunities. But I don’t care if they voice negative thoughts about why this won’t work here. Or saying that we tried that before and it didn’t work. Great, lets talk about why it didn’t work. Lets try to do something different this time. I don’t want people to ignore the negative feelings they have. Express them and lets deal with them.

Now there are some people that won’t stop just expressing negative opinions without exploring what that means about how we can cope with potential dangers and find more effective solutions. That is not very helpful. But overall give me more people that are seen as negative. We need more raising of problems. We need more people unsatisfied with the status quo.

Thoughts on, Two Sentences That Don’t Help: “That won’t work.” or “I don’t like that.” I think they do work. They are not perfect, if would be better to be constructive. But I would much rather hear that when it is what is felt than someone thinking it won’t work and being quiet because they don’t want to be seen as negative.

Related: Bring Me Solutions or ProblemsThe difference between respect and disrespect is not avoiding avoiding criticismThe Lazy Unreasonable ManFinancial Market MeltdownRespect for People, Understanding Psychology

6 thoughts on “Negativity

  1. The math equation in your comments section at 5 a.m. “I don’t like that.”

    No, seriously, great post and I agree wholeheartedly. Being able to offer and receive constructive criticism is a key part of the effective leadership package. It helps everyone improve their own performance and that of the organization. Those who want to move up the career ladder would do well to heed your advice.

  2. I agree and disagree. One of my department guidelines (Quality Assurance, Training and Compliance) is “No Negativity” … and that’s not to say that anyone can’t disagree, because another guideline of the department is to come up with solutions and resolutions to issues that we come across – to improve the quality of our work. I have one team member who is consistently “negative” and she quite often doesn’t agree with something and she has no problem stating this. However, she rarely comes up with ideas or resolutions to her disagreements, only that she doesn’t like it, she doesn’t agree with it and she believes she’s entitled to that opinion.

    Try as I might to encourage the thought processes to not liking something and coming up with the alternatives, it doesn’t work for this one person.

    So how would you suggest I use “negativity is okay” when there is no resolution idea attached to it?

  3. As I said an employee is more useful if they can also provide solutions. However, if an employee can see a problem and explain it then others have a chance to try and fix it. That is better than not knowing about the problem at all. Solutions have to be effective. And raising problems does too. Complaining can be ineffective.

    “I don’t like that it rains.” That is not that helpful. “Some customers won’t come to our store when it rains is a little more helpful.” Maybe we can do something to cope with the reasons customers avoid us when it rains to encourage customers to do so. Just look at the problem and see if solutions or counter-measures can be found.

    Basically just take the negative expression and work with it. Ok, we tried this exact same improvement idea 2 years ago and it didn’t work. Why didn’t it work? Can we adjust for that and make it work this time? Most organizations are pretty ineffective at improving. Someone pointing out that fact should not be ostracized unless you really want to eliminate thinking and replace it with optimism. I don’t think that works, I want to encourage thinking even if at the beginning that is more negative than the typical things people are willing to say. But many seem to based on their actions.

  4. I think this advice should be taken by people in exit interviews. So often employees leave because they quit a boss or a bad system but never pass on this valuable info for fear of “burning bridges”

    Good post!

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