The power of positive

Imagine the following situation: you are sitting down with Bob, one of your project managers, to discuss his ongoing training efforts, to talk about options of certification and courses he might take etc. The company is currently in a tight spot and just a couple of weeks ago the IT budget has been cut. You have limited resources but you are nonetheless dedicated to get people training and create opportunities for personal development. So you sit down and want to say exactly that. Which way do you think is better to convey this:

  • “Hey Bob, you probably heard about the budget cuts IT took last week. I want you to not think about it – it’s not going to be an issue. I don’t want you to think that you’re not getting your certification you have been working on the last six months. As a matter of fact, is there any other course you might be interested in?”
  • “Hey Bob, you probably heard about the budget cuts IT took last week. We may be in a tighter spot than before but I still managed to keep the budget allocation for training, so apart from the certification we have been talking about – is there any other training you are interested in?”

In practice, it will most likely be the second one working better because it is stated in a positive way. The idea behind this stems from an NLP approach called “Positive and Negative“. If you say something and tell someone not to think about something, he or she is still going to think about it. The reason lies within the way our brains are wired: to actually not think about something, our brain first has to focus on that specific thing it is supposed to ignore. So, if you tell Bob to forget about the possibility that his certification is canceled, he will ultimately come to have precisely that before his mind’s eye. As a consequence, asking him then if there is anything else he might be interested in, might even look as if you are looking for a cheaper alternative.

As a matter of fact, this can even happen with positive statements as Joanne Wood from the University of Waterloo found: people with low self-esteem who repeated “I’m a lovable person” to themselves felt worse than people who did neither. Obviously, the repeated statements made their minds think exactly of the opposite, namely that they are not a lovable person. On the other hand, people with good self-esteem felt better about themselves when repeating phrases like “I’m a lovable person” to themselves – as it seems because they also did believe in it.

Still, in most cases, it is better to state your thoughts in a positive sense as long as you don’t go the way of Jim Carey’s “Yes Man” and forcefully apply the principle to everything. There are always limits and constraints and of course you should clearly communicate them. Nonetheless there are a  number of reasons why negative statements can become counterproductive:

  • they don’t state your expectation, but only what you do not want or what you are not interested in,
  • they may insult and
  • hinder free flow of ideas and thoughts and
  • often don’t leave any room for discussion even if that is precisely what you want.

As Naomi Drury, NLP practitioner, states on his blog – strong positive words bring a strong positive reaction. So stay focused on the goals, strategies, issues or topics you want to communicate and say them positively. It will surely pay off.

Further resources:

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.