Go Ahead, Be a Grinch


As you sit around the holiday fireplace this year and feign being happy with the gifts you will never use, pretend not to mind the cost of the dinner on the table, or act interested in hearing the same stories over and over from the forgetful relative, you may get the vague feeling that you are impersonating the Grinch.  Afterall, tis the season to be jolly, right? Or not. At this time of the year, people are expected to be merry and dismiss any negativity.  If you must, go ahead and join in the frivolity.  But come Monday, when you go back to work, give yourself permission to be a Grinch as you look at what you want to accomplish in the New Year or consider making resolutions about what you plan to change in 2011. Negative thinking is not necessarily “bad.”

In business, being a Grinch is not always a bad thing

Business Perspective

As we continue the climb out of the recession of the last couple of years and there seems to be hope on the horizon, the tendency to be upbeat and positive about the future is enticing.  Afterall, there are books like, “The Secret” that propose that you can have anything you want in this world – anything – so long as you think about it positively enough. For instance; if one wishes to lose weight, the book maintains that you can focus on being skinny (perhaps without as much attention to eating right or exercising).  If one desires to be independently wealthy, all one needs to do is to tap into the universe’s power, spirit, or secret and believe strongly enough and it will be delivered.

As any business person can tell you – that just is not a high probability outcome!  The laws of mathematical odds dictate that hoping for a low percentage outcome will lead to failure much more frequently than success.  So, while there is something to be said for maintaining a positive PERSONAL outlook on things and to be goal-directed; it is not to come at the expense of being fact-based, practical, and occasionally negative about ideas, processes, or initiatives that are less likely to contribute to the success of the business.

In a twist on what it SHOULD be in business, positive employees are promoted, given more plum assignments, higher raises and generally have brighter futures in companies while the more grumpy and negative employees are treated less like team members and more like outsiders or are isolated.  In fact, it is essential that the realistic and rational be heard.  To the extent that the people who are seen as negative can provide challenges that are business-based and promote better decision-making, they should be encouraged.

The Balance

Opponents of negative thinking do not see or believe that it is possible to be both negative and happy (I am making a distinction between being positive and being happy.  They are not the same).  The truth, however, is that negative thinking can have a positive influence.  The improvement on product design, marketing plans, ROI analysis, etc. can often be credited to someone who looked at the initial initiative and saw room for improvement. 

 It can be suggested that negative people, in their effort to improve upon the existing efforts are forced to communicate better, think more clearly, make fewer mistakes, be less gullible, and are better at decision-making.  Afterall, in order to rise above the internal inertia of sticking with the existing strategy or tactics, they must demonstrate an enhanced information-processing strategies.  Curiously, research has shown that what it all comes down to is that negative people pay more attention to their surroundings. They’re not always negative solely for the sake of being negative.

What To Do

Here are five ways to work better with negative thinkers:

  1. Don’t try to change them. It could be that their good aspects outweigh their inconvenient attributes.
  2. Seek their opinion. Chances are they’ve picked up on stuff you’ve missed, especially if you tend to be incessantly optimistic.
  3. Let them vent. Sometimes all they want is to be heard. Their ideas and solutions can be really valuable.
  4. Plug information gaps. An absence of information causes them to panic, so be honest and forthcoming with what’s going on.
  5. Engage their minds. Give them problems to solve. Consult them when making decisions.

Being a Grinch does not mean that one is not being positive about the future of the business just because they are negative about current plans, product ideas, or other ideas.  They may just be what will ensure the most positive outcome!

David Zahn

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