Three steps to manage negativity

By Heather Campbell

  • ‘It’s chaos everywhere’ : Two airport fights erupt within 10 minutes says passenger (The Independent)
  • ‘Pound falls to two-year low as political uncertainty adds to gloomy economy’ (Sky News)
  • ‘Prawn cocktail shortage could ruin Christmas as UK nears pre-Brexit quota’ (The Mirror)

Three of the headlines in my newsfeed today (Tuesday 12th July) as I prepare to write this email. I knew I shouldn’t have checked!

Headlines focus on negativity because it builds sales. Human beings are drawn to negative news. This quote from a Guardian article captures it well: Whether or not the world really is getting worse, the nature of news will interact with the nature of cognition to make us think that it is.

I love this because it highlights that it isn’t the world per se that gets in the way, it’s our perspective on it. And we’re no different when it comes down to the micro-level of our own everyday lives. If you were to put together a personal media report, documenting what happened yesterday and what is unfolding live for YOU in YOUR leadership role, what do you think you’d focus on? You’ve guessed it – the negative stuff too.

Here are three headlines that could appear for leaders I’ve spoken to this week:

  • ‘Toxic boss causes chaos and conflict and blames everyone else for problems’
  • ‘Budgets slashed with no reduction in targets as economic crisis bites’
  • ‘Dogs in offices! Major tripping hazard’

A lot of my friends have cut off their news feeds because of the negative impact it was having on their mental well-being. I’ve stopped watching the TV news programmes because of their relentless negativity – much of it speculative rather than factual. (This, by the way would have been anathema to my lovely dad who, in the 70s and 80s, insisted on watching the 9 pm news on BBC and then the 10 pm news on ITV. I still don’t understand what he thought would have happened in that half hour window.)

Unfortunately, we can’t cut off the negativity that surrounds us at work quite as easily which means we need to find ways to manage it because it de-stabilises and causes stress. Every day, I coach leaders who are struggling with bosses, colleagues and direct reports who undermine them. I work with leaders who are trying to figure out which risks are real and need managed, and which are created through their own imaginings or the anxiety of others around them. And, worst of all, I see capable, competent leaders lose their confidence completely as a result of consistent negativity and fear within their workplace culture.

To paraphrase the Guardian: While it’s rarely as bad as it seems, the nature of work will interact with the nature of cognition to make us think that it is.

The result is reduced confidence for too many leaders.

That’s why I have included ‘Blocking Negativity’ as one of the topics in my virtual programme for Directors. We explore the most powerful ways to block people who pull you down – whether or not they do so intentionally. Leaders discover the specific steps to take so they aren’t side-tracked or wrong-footed, and so that they don’t waste energy and time on toxic negativity.

Three key tips from the programme include:

  • Differentiate between what is really happening and what is actually the (usually negative) stories you are telling yourself about what is happening.
  • Avoid assuming that all negativity is bad or that all negative people should be avoided. We don’t live in a world of perpetual sunshine and joy. Most pessimists consider themselves realists, while endless optimism can mean risks are overlooked. Negativity has its place – as long as it isn’t there to damage you on purpose, or so overwhelming it is leaving you stressed out.
  • Identify the specific negativity or negative people undermining you. Avoid generalising the situation. We are so cognitively-biased to notice our fears that it’s easy to get negative mindset creep and find yourself overlooking the positives around us too. As human beings, we are more driven by fear than we are by desire…we really have to work to see the positives.

And if you recognise that negativity is getting in the way for you, whether it’s driven by the culture you work in, others around you or even your own negative self-talk, check out our virtual programme for Directors. Change your headlines – here are three from leaders who have recently completed the programme:

  • “Self-effacing leader takes giant leap forward in career: ‘I’d never have thought this big job was for people like me! she said”
  • “Renewed clarity drive out sluggish struggles, and firm focus removes pointless procrastination”
  • “Life-changing resilience and confidence replaces burnout and uncertainty”

Email me to find out more. I’m happy to share.

And always, observe yourself and others with interest and learning, not criticism and judgement.

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