A blog post written by Ron Scheese, President & CEO of Andesa Services
If you drive on Pennsylvania roads for many years, chances are you will eventually hit a deer. My accident occurred on a busy stretch of highway one morning during my commute. Climbing a slight hill on Route 222 North coming out of Reading, I was passing an eighteen-wheeler as a fairly large buck dashed across my lane. With nowhere to maneuver, I tapped my brakes and watched as the front of my car folded around the large mammal. I managed to pull to the median. The deer was dead. My car sustained significant but repairable damage. The police were summoned. I was shaken but unharmed.
Despite nearly eight years having passed, my senses are heightened and my eyes scout the wooded surroundings whenever I travel this stretch of highway. This daily commute routine serves to remind me of mankind’s natural proclivity towards a negativity bias.
Simply defined, negativity bias is a phenomenon where things of a negative nature have a greater impact and effect on our psyche than do positive or neutral equivalents. This natural inclination limits our decision-making processes; drives us towards risk aversion and places more emphasis on the cost of a solution or investment versus the probable improvements or potential gains.
Researchers believe this trait naturally evolved from our cave-dweller ancestors where a fear-based perspective was necessary for the fittest to survive. All new situations were approached cautiously as a matter of life or death, such that humans are now predisposed to focus on the negative possibilities.
How does this play out in everyday life?
News media outlets highlight negative events reporting, “gotcha” interviews or conflict-filled conversations in order to garner subscribers, listeners and viewers. Based on research that many individuals cast ballots against a candidate rather than for someone they support, most political campaigns specialize in mudslinging; emphasizing opponent’s faults and weaknesses versus promoting their own candidate’s attributes and strengths.
Many business leaders describe their role as “problem-solvers,” “running interference” or “putting out fires;” too infrequently do we hear the terms “building a team” or creating an environment” to describe the efforts. Performance management becomes a euphemism for employee discipline – getting a staff member to behave differently or improve their weaknesses versus coaching, mentoring and helping an individual reach their career objectives. We beat ourselves up over only partially achieving two goals in the quarter, failing to recognize and celebrate the eight other accomplishments during the same period.
How can one overcome this natural bias toward negativity and accentuate the positive?
The first step is awareness. Simply being mindful of negativity bias can make one alert as we approach the day and the tasks and interactions we encounter throughout. Each morning, on that stretch of Route 222, I am reminded of the power of a negative experience on my subconscious. The likelihood of me hitting another deer at the precise spot where I had my previous accident is highly remote. Yet my entire being is impacted by this experience. As I prepare for the day, I am reminded about the power negativity holds on us and try to bring a positive energy and outlook to my work.
Second, the power of negativity requires significantly more positive energy be expended in order to return an environment to a neutral position. Thus, to overcome negativity, surround yourself with positive people and thoughts. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
This favorite Bible passage reminds me that I control my own emotions and reactions. I more often listen to music versus news during my commute – wanting to be in a good spirit and mindset when I enter the workplace or return to my home. Daily meditation and motivational quotes can help. Spending time with positive, pure, praiseworthy individuals, thoughts and feelings aid in the battle against negativity.
Third, make it a point to look for the good in others. Focus on an individual’s strengths and what they contribute to the situation or the environment. In the best-seller Good to Great, researcher Jim Collins offers a practical discipline, “Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems.” The Good-to-Great companies followed this guidance, whereas “the comparison companies had a penchant for doing just the opposite–failing to grasp the fact that managing your problems can only make you good; whereas building your opportunities is the only way to become great.”
Make a conscious decision to spread positivity
Finally, make a conscious decision to spread positivity. Research of sixty business teams by Marcial Losada and Emily Heaphy: The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams concluded that higher performing teams had a ratio of 5.6 positive comments to every 1 negative comment as compared to only a 1.9 to 1 positive-to-negative ratio on medium-performing teams, while low-performing teams had a ratio of 3 negative comments for each positive comment. To improve your performance, minimize cynicism, sarcasm and negativity.
Put “Accentuate the Positive” on your “To-Do” list.
Audit your past ten social media posts to determine what vibe you are sending into the universe. Do you want your brand to speak of a positive or cynical contribution? Spend more energy talking about what is excellent; what is praiseworthy; what is right; what is true; etc.
I would encourage you to begin the battle to overcome negativity. It is a powerful enemy. Remember, eight years later and I’m still reflecting on one negative experience versus two-thousand safe, unremarkable, daily commutes. Be aware, surround yourself with positive thoughts and people, look for the good in others and make a concentrated effort to accentuate the positive.