First, let me say that I’m a big believer in thinking positively. Seeing yourself succeeding. Believing that there’s always a way — even if not exactly as you first imagined. But that often gets muddled with the idea of negative thinking always being bad. And defining “negative” thinking as anything not immediately seen as positive!
How some people define negative thinking
We all know people who, whatever the situation, turn to the dark side of possibilities — keeping expectations low and conjuring up unhappy outcomes. “This is going to fail badly.” “Oh, I never have good luck.” And almost any new idea or suggestion for change is a “bad idea.” That’s pretty much the standard definition of negative thinking.
But we also know people (including bosses) who label opposing views as negative. And therefore bad. Even potentially threatening to their way of leading or being. You know … “Don’t rock the boat.” Except a boat unrocked can also go adrift, with nothing (or no one) to right its course.
And while most of us say we respect other opinions, people find unity of thought comforting. Especially in groups (think about sports teams). We just feel more comfortable moving / working in unison.
So other opinions — even potentially correct / useful ones — can throw that lovely feeling of unity into imbalance. And we as humans do not like that feeling. As much as possible, we prefer “cognitive consonance” (feeling balanced and content) rather than cognitive dissonance.
And so people often guard against the kind of “negative” thinking that gets in their way. Even useful opposing views. Applying protective labels and dangling emotional rewards for not rocking any boats. And when anything does threaten the harmony, we work extra hard to get back to that balanced feeling.
Being a group”insider” is far easier.
But it’s the ones who dare to think differently
who lead the way to creative change
& true, lasting innovation.
And now for the good kind of negative thinking
OK. I think it’s pretty obvious by now that the negative thinking I’m talking about is actually diverse opinions that get labeled as “negative.” You know … those people who think for themselves. And who dare to offer opinions that don’t come out of the boss’s mouth. Or from one of the group leaders.
Even seemingly stupid ideas or those that feel a bit off topic can offer a thought basis worth exploring. And that’s where the good ole values of listening and respect come in. A speedy meeting filled with agreement and lots of back slapping isn’t necessarily the greatest way to find yet unseen solutions.
But … having worked in many different jobs and work environments, I’m also realistic. Some people disagree just for the sake of doing so. Or to be obstructive. If they’re unhappy why can’t we all be? And some just need to hear themselves speak, even with nothing much to say.
So where is the line between alternative opinions (“negative thinking”) worth exploring and purely obstructive behavior? Good question. Probably at least starting with creating an environment where diverse ideas are welcome. And people feel respect, acceptance, and camaraderie — even if they stand outside the circle of agreement.
Sometimes the project really is on track to fail badly.
And people need to feel free to speak up — and be heard.
Beware the “only I am right” bully boss
A bully boss gets their power by controlling opinions. Labeling those that differ from their own as “negative thinking” — whether they call it exactly that or not. If you oppose what I want to do or believe, then you’re not with me. You’re against me. And therefore, you’re a negative force … a threat to the boss’s absolute power.
After a while, people start to censor themselves. And view those who dare to speak up as a negative force to the unity of the team / group. And in this way, groupthink sets in and takes control, helping to strengthen and solidify the boss’s power over the group.
Worst of all, in a groupthink environment black can become white. And right-side up can become upside down. This can turn basic values and accountability into things no one gives priority to. Removing an important level of potential checks and balances — the perceived “negatives” that can truly be positive.
A few more thoughts
Again, I just want to reassure you that I’m a big fan of positive thinking, And I strongly suggest keeping it at the top of your career — and life — survival tool kit.
Still, if you do find yourself always seeing the negative side of things (including jobs), just know that negative thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Luckily, you have the power of change in your own hands. Something we talk a lot about on this site. [NOTE: Self-awareness is a great first step for any personal change.]
But we also need to leave room for the other side. The kind of “negative” thinking offered sincerely that can bring positive change. And the people who might contribute more if they felt free to do so — even if what they say may make us uncomfortable at times.
At least before automatically labeling opposing thoughts as negative, take a moment to assess the intention behind it. And then maybe look for nuggets of truth worth exploring. Who knows? You might even find some hidden gold … together. A very useful work and life approach. 🙂
More posts to help