Have the negatives taken over time and focus?

If you think for a minute about your average workday, how would you divide that workday between focusing on positives versus focusing on negatives?  Do you tend to catch people doing something wrong more often than doing something right?  If you answered “yes”, you might be adding to the overall negativity, yourself.

Praise or Condemn

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This negative focus may be a byproduct of our own culture.  Pull up any of the major news websites at any given time and you’ll see that a high percentage of the headlines usually have negative undertones.

While we might be quick to blame the media, our own behavior feeds the fire when it comes to this trend.  For example, in a 2012 study, Outbrain, a marketing firm that specializes in internet traffic, found that negative headlines had an average click-through rate (meaning people were actually clicking on the headlines to go to the source content) 68% higher than positive headlines.   There are many different reasons as to why negative headlines receive more attention, but the end-result is still the same.

Even television may be lending a hand.  I admit that I enjoy my own fair share of reality television.  Look at how many reality programs exist on various channels (ex: what happened to the good ‘ole days of MTV just showing music videos?).  Most of those shows thrive on drama, such as verbal arguments or fights between the characters.  Drama and negativity clearly sell.

However, a study published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture found that those who watched reality television or even violent crime dramas that included verbal or relational aggression between characters tended to have more aggressive responses to threats related to ego.   Does this mean that if you watch reality television that you’re automatically going to get in a fist fight at work?  Probably not, but you have to question how is this might be affecting behavior in the workplace.

To add to this, two sayings come to mind that I’ve heard all throughout my careers at different places of employment.  There’s a good chance you’ve heard these, too:

  1. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
  2. “No news is good news.”
Yelling

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Number 1 is especially important, because solving problems makes up the bulk of most jobs.  Yet, this has trained us to spend our most of our time focusing on those problems, whether the problems are task-related or people-related.   If you have someone reporting to you who is under-performing, it’s likely that individual will take up more of your time and focus compared to your top performer.  Just because “No news is good news” when it comes to your top performer doesn’t mean that they should simply be ignored.

FineAwards.com published a press release in which it reviewed data from a series of Gallup polls on the topic of employee engagement.  They put together an excellent infographic that you can find here.  Some of the interesting data they found is as follows:

  • 35% of respondents consider lack of recognition the primary hindrance to their productivity
  • 16% of respondents left their previous job based on a lack of recognition
  • 17% of respondents stated that they have never been recognized at their place of employment
  • 69% of respondents stated they would work harder if they received increased recognition

In other words, if only the squeaky wheel is getting the grease, you might look down one day and find that some of your wheels have simply disappeared while your ride is sitting up on blocks.

It takes effort, but intentionally finding people doing things right can have a positive outcome on your work environment, such as lower turnover and higher productivity.  If you can train yourself to also be on the lookout for the positives, you can turn it into a habit.

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