Choose Your Response to Negativity

January 16th 2014

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Last week presented me with a terrific learning experience. I spent the day teaching a workshop to a department of a large organization. Like the organization itself, this department has faced several years of budget cuts, all the while serving an increasingly large population. This, of course, translates into doing more with fewer resources. As a result, the team was greatly fatigued, and their coping strategies had negatively affected their internal communication. 

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The workshop went well, with plenty of lively discussion, creativity, some disagreement here and there, and lots of good energy. By the end of our time together, the team had developed a framework that defined how they will treat each other going forward. They were upbeat and energized, ready to implement the new standards they had set for themselves.

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Except one person, who we’ll call Mildred. Mildred made a special effort to pull me aside at the end of the session. In my ear, Mildred whispered, “Nothing you have done today will make a difference. Nothing will change here.” As I recount this, I can actually recall the hiss in her voice. She seemed absolutely delighted to relay her assessment of the day to me.

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My initial response was disappointment in myself that I had failed to reach Mildred’s mind or heart. As I saw it, my skills were not a match for her attitude. But after a few days of thinking about it, I understand her a little better and have a more productive response than disappointment. I hope my insights will help you the next time you encounter someone else’s fear or negativity.

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  1. It’s probably not about you or your skill. Mildred was afraid, and through her negative message to me, she was expressing her fear. Maybe she’s afraid of change, maybe she’s afraid of kindness (a big topic at our session), maybe she’s afraid of losing influence within her team. I don’t know for sure. But I do know that in talking to me, she was expressing her fear far more than she was assessing the workshop or my ability.
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  3. Let the majority rule your mind. When you receive a negative response to an idea, remember to consider what others have said about that idea. At the end of my session, the vast majority of attendees were energized, optimistic, and ready to face the future as a team. They expressed gratitude to me, both individually and as a group. It was only Mildred who sought me out specifically to share her negative view. When this happens to you, it’s crucial to keep in mind the positive responses of others.
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  5. Be flexible about the future; let others remain fixed if they so choose. Mildred had already decided what the future would be, and so it’s likely she will create that scenario for herself. My hope is that the new-found energy and optimism of her colleagues will override her negativity, but I simply don’t know. I choose to view the future positively; it’s fine if all you can conjure up is neutrality. However, I have no doubt at all that holding a negative perspective on the future makes it far more likely that negative outcomes will occur.
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I feel truly lucky to have met Mildred, because she gave me the opportunity to test my own outlook and to share my insights with you. I suppose the biggest insight, then is that even in experiencing someone’s negativity up-close-and-personal, there’s plenty of room for gratitude and optimism.

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Comments



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Jacob
05/30/2014 8:09pm
You created a silver lining around Mildred! Thank you for shining light on this perspective.