There seems to be an aversion to being perceived as “negative” in any way, especially in working environments where the emphasis is on being dynamic and vibrant. A previous employer of mine in the late 1990s went so far as actively banning anything that could be deemed negative in any way, thus making “having your hand in your pockets” a punishable offence [don’t ask]
The problem with the idea of simply “being positive” is that it is fraught with contradictions and as a result can be harmful. Studies have shown that “positive thinking” simply creates unrealistic expectations that cannot be fulfilled, leading to feedback loops that reinforce rather than remove dissatisfaction. On the opposite end of the scale overly negative people can dominate interactions so such an extent that they act as a drain on energy, ideas and motivation, even if they feel they are being truthful and honest. So how can this situation be managed? Here’s an example:
- Define a time and space to explore ideas and concepts, if you have an existing method for brainstorming ideas, use it.
- Define the subject that you are gong to explore
- Ask your team to come up with every single negative element that could, might or may have an impact or restrict progress in any way.
Encourage everyone to dig deep and be as outlandish as they want, write their thoughts down on to sticky notes and then collate everything. This works in a number of levels; it allows those team members who naturally see the negatives to express their ideas without judgment, but it should also throw up some issues that really need to be dealt with to prevent big problems in the future. Additionally the time boxing of the session means simply that the negative stuff goes in a box, and [hopefully] wont spill over into the rest of the working environment.
So in short, please be negative, but in a way that’s useful and productive [this isn’t the same as moaning]