Leading Through Negativity

by | Aug 3, 2022 | Personal Growth, Professional Growth

Woman with her hands on her head

“I think we manifest the very thing we put out. If you’re putting out negativity, then you’re going to retrieve that same sentiment. If you emanate joy, it comes back to you.”

– Robin Wright

Don’t be so negative!

Whether at work or at home, we have all received or delivered this message. We want our ideas to be productive and affirmed, and when they are challenged, we often associate resistance with negativity.

The impact of these exchanges can strain relationships and organization results. Yes, negativity affects the bottom line. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that negativity costs businesses $3 billion a year due to its harmful effects. We need to better understand negative thinking, both our own and those we rely on.

According to the Berkley Well Being Institute, negativity is defined as “the tendency to be down, skeptical, and pessimistic. If we are being negative, we generally find the worst in any situation, often even seeing negative things where they may not exist. That’s why negativity tends to be bad for our mental health and well-being.”

Negativity is seeing the glass as half full.

Dr. Alison Ledgerwood from UC Davis has researched negativity and demonstrated that describing something as a half-full glass leads to promoting a gain mindset. Conversely, a half-empty glass results in a loss mindset. Once someone is in the loss mindset, they are very difficult to convert. They see the negative impacts and are slow to change.

The loss mindset is formed by the negativity bias. This bias causes us to pay more attention to, and give weight to, negative experiences. Neuropsychologist Rich Hanson says, “our brain is like Velcro to negative experiences, and Teflon to positive ones.”

When our brain is focused on negativity, our responses can include:

  • Complaining
  • Blaming others
  • Sarcasm
  • Condescension

These words deflect responsibility, minimize others, and must be addressed. Leaders need to listen and be empathetic to miserable individuals. We should try to understand their frustration, and coach them on the impact of their behavior on the team. More importantly, we must respect the needs of those who are positive and supportive.

High performing teams have learned optimism – they use positive thinking to achieve their goals. They know what is expected and are recognized for their gain mindset. Disagreements are handled in a productive way.

Three keys to leading through negativity:

Model the Way

Take responsibility for your state of mind. Leaders need to be a stabilizing force through challenges. If you are tired and frustrated, get yourself into a positive place.

The Good News

Challenge others by asking “what is the good news” when presented with negative thoughts. Challenge them to see both sides of the issue. Lowering negativity through positive thoughts can be effective.

Expect Critical Challenges to include Solutions

When someone makes an argument for why an idea will not work, ask them for their solution. Our decisions often are not perfect – we decide and collaborate on how we can make this work.

As Robin Wright said in the quote, we do need to be aware of the messages we put out. Our people look to us for direction and inspiration. Negative thinking will always be with us, but it does not have to disable us. The antidote is a full glass of leadership.

Leading Your Team

A great article from Adam Grant, a leading thinker on leadership and the workplace. He discusses the importance of how to help others change their mind. How to understand their point of view and encourage them to think again.

Changing Someone’s Mind

Read to Lead

Leaders benefit from being active readers, long reads not just social media posts and news feeds. A deep read builds concentration, strengthens your intellectual capacity, and offers wisdom you can share. As you refresh or build your reading habit, diversify your experience — old, new, fiction, non-fiction, audio, hard cover, and e-readers.


My July favorites:

Do Hard Things
by Steve Magness
Peak Performance author Steve Magness offers insights into how we perceive toughness, and what it means to achieve our high ambitions in the face of hard things.

The Perfect Pass by S.C. Gwynne

Whether you’re a casual or diehard football fan, this is a truly compelling story of American ingenuity and innovation. The author documents how a set of revolutionary ideas made their way into the mainstream of sports culture that we celebrate today.


Have a great week!