The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!
Would you consider yourself to be a positive or negative person? Most of us would like to identify with being a friend or co-worker who brings positive energy to the world around us. The struggle is that so often we allow negativity to creep into our thoughts and actions and before we know it, we are spreading these thoughts without realizing we are doing so!
What are the common ways we spread negativity and what can we do to consciously stop this bad behavior? Here are five examples that should ring true to all of us in some capacity.
Using the phrase “no problem”
Think about how we answer a request, whether it be for work or when talking to a friend or family member. A common response we use is “no problem.” This is often meant in a pleasant and helpful way, so then why are we framing it in the negative? Saying “no problem” implies that whatever you did for that person could have been a problem, but that you were willing to sacrifice or overlook that.
This phrase has become so much a part of our culture that we don’t often realize when we’re saying it or how often. Yet, as soon as you start to look for it, it crops up everywhere! It spreads negativity discretely and indirectly by making someone feel like you’ve done them a favor or that they might owe you in the future. Rather, we need to shift to responding with positive phrases like “my pleasure” or “I’d be happy to.” This small change can have a profound impact on the way you communicate with others and how they perceive your motives to help.
Focusing on the negative percent
Another sneaky way we let negativity creep into our daily lives is how we interpret percentages. Even though a 20% chance of rain also means an 80% change of sun, the weatherperson is more likely to lead with the dismal statistic even though it’s the smaller one. In this scenario, we might be able to give them a pass for wanting to boost their ratings with interesting news, but it’s a common practice that is carried over into many other areas of life.
When we look at health statistics, we often focus on how many people are diagnosed, die or suffer as opposed to the positive percentage of how many people are healthy, alive and well. There’s a time and place for taking negative statistics into account, but so often we allow our focus on the negative to cause anxiety about something that is pretty unlikely to occur. The lesson here is to always consider both parts of a statistic. If there’s a 15% change your worst fear will come true, remember that this is also telling you there is an 85% chance you will be just fine.
Saying something is “not bad”
Has someone ever suggested something to you and you responded with “That’s not a bad idea!”? It’s pretty likely you’ve used this phrase at least once in the past month. If you really think about what you’re saying to the person, it’s quite a negative way to respond to their effort to be helpful. Saying “not bad” implies that you might have been expecting them to come up with a bad or disappointing idea, and are actually surprised they didn’t. Moreover, this phrase doesn’t give any credit to the idea being good.
Culturally, the phrase “not bad” is often used with some sarcasm. It’s pulling that person’s leg that you would have actually expected their idea, their cooking, their creative skills, etc. to be bad when in reality you had full faith in them. I’m all for sarcasm at the right place and the right time, but we have to be mindful about also spreading positive encouragement when it’s needed. In a work environment, it’s far better to respond with a more direct statement like “That’s a great idea!” or “Good thinking!” Don’t make people guess as to whether you’re being negative or just sarcastic. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Using canned responses when someone asks how you are doing
Here’s another way you may be spreading negativity without knowing it. Think about how you respond when someone asks how you are doing. If it’s Monday, we’re likely to make a joke about getting back to the grind or feeling tired from the weekend. If it’s Friday we might say something along the lines of just getting through today and then maybe we’ll get a break on Saturday. We can find a reason to feel tired or overwhelmed any day of the week!
When someone asks how you are doing, it’s often a conversation starter. They don’t really want to hear about the moans and groans of your work week. Instead of spewing out negativity with your response (sarcastic or not), try and find just one positive thing to focus on and spread this positivity with the person who is asking. Keep it simple with something like “I’m having a really great day. How are you?” Or be specific while still keeping it short with “I enjoyed spending time with my family this weekend. Did you enjoy yours?” If you’re happy, share it! And if you’re having a bad day, sharing just one positive thing can actually help turn your day around.
Letting an issue leak into another part of your life
This final point can be the most toxic when it comes to spreading negativity. If you have an issue that you fail to compartmentalize, it’s going to leak into other areas of your life and it’s going to get messy! For example, if you got into an argument with a coworker right before heading home for the day, it’s easy to carry this burden with you throughout the evening and into the next day until it’s resolved. But in doing so, you’re bringing this stress and anxiety into your home and it will prevent you from fully engaging with your family during your off hours.
If you feel a weight on your shoulders, stop and address it. If it can’t be addressed right now (because you have to talk to someone at work or because it’s regarding an upcoming event) then you need to push it out of your mind, even temporarily, to continue living in the moment and enjoying the positivity that is around you right now. Don’t fall victim to spreading your own negativity to other parts of your life. Work on compartmentalizing these emotions and addressing them at the right moment.
Are you guilty of spreading negativity in any of these sneaky and unassuming ways? Share your thoughts by commenting below!