Dec 12, 2018
I’m Not Negative, I’m Realistic. Really?
Japan is a highly risk averse culture, so it is also a workplace with a lot of negativity built into it. The best way to avoid mistakes is to make sure there are no unforeseen problems. That means being negative about ideas and propositions, until it is proven that the risk factor is super low or even better, non-existent. We all have negative ideas floating around in our heads. Our poisonous self talk can be based on ancient humiliations from things that failed in the past, concern for the future and recent poundings by the boss for screwing up. In japan, when we lump a whole bunch of people together in an enterprise or a project, the tone can easily turn negative, unless we make sure it doesn’t. That is the boss’s job – turn back the tide of negativity and get the whole contraption moving forward.
There are five drivers we can use in this process.
In our modern world, where risk, challenge, change and competition are in engaged in mortal hand-to-hand combat with us, self-confidence is the competitive edge. The lack of self-confidence is what lets negativity in the door. As the boss, we have to be designing tasks for our team members, that enable them to grow in their work and expand their comfort zones in the process. We may think we can’t do something, until we can. That is how we grow our appetite for doing new and better ways of working. It is an iterative process and the build is slow, that is why the boss has to be focused on this all the time, in order to grow the bench strength of the team.
Some people respond to challenge and pressure and others collapse. The boss needs to know the team members very well, in order to know what type of conversation to have with each person. The old style, mass, locker room “storm the barricades” uplifting speech is a dusty relic, replaced with a laser focus on each individual personality, one at a time. Weaker people need support and encouragement, while the bold and the brave are totally self-powered and independent. Totally different conversations are in order for each.
Knowing what is the driver for each person, allows us to shape our communication in a way that is most appealing to them. We also need to know their preferred communication style. Are they detail or big picture focused. Personally driven, take no prisoners types or considered, consensus oriented. When we know that, we alter our speech patterns in ways that hits the bulls-eye with them. We need to know who is prone to be dragged down by self-doubt and fear, disguising themselves in more socially acceptable terms as “realists”, when they are actually negative people. This negative group needs encouragement and close direction, to help them expand their comfort zone.
Having negative people in the team is a given and you won’t be sprucing them upinto glass half full types anytime soon. We need to work with what we have and corral their negativity, so it doesn’t effect everyone else and drag them down. They can be a great source of divergent views on an opportunity or innovation. They will tell you what is wrong with it in great detail. That is handy because then the more positive types can get to work on work-arounds for all the issues raised. We have to get the team to understand that failure is a part and parcel of the messy innovation process. As the boss, we must tolerate it when it arises and get everyone to see it as an instruction manual, on getting things right next time. Telling people to step up, step out and be accountable, then whacking them across the ear when they make a mistake is stupid. Yet this is often how it works in many companies.
By giving negative people the permission to fail, this allows them to take a few small steps out of their comfort zone. Over time they will become more positive than before, but will always need close supervision to keep them bobbing along on the path to progress.
The ability to face challenging situations with a constructive attitude is a determining factor for all of us. Winston Churchill said it well, “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”. A great weight can be lifted off our shoulders through our self-talk and also through how we work. If we are carrying the heavy burdens of what happened in the past on our shoulders, we can feel trapped in a stupor, where we lack enthusiasm for today’s fight. If we are consumed with fear about what might happen in the future, then we are diminished in our energy to be applied to the task in front of us. We need to fully focus on doing the most effective thing at every given moment, regardless of what happened in the past or what might happen in the future. We learn from the past, prepare for the future and get on with today.