We rarely celebrate when we have so-called negative people around us. Often times our experience is that they zap our energy, slow down or demoralise our team and poke holes into our plans and ideas. It just seems that around them nothing is possible and everything is a problem.
Therefore at the workplace and in real life, we try to get rid of them, avoid them, minimise their impact or – for some of us – to convert them to the religion of positiveness.
The premise goes that everyone needs to be super positive otherwise they cannot function constructively in a relationship, team or business. Or that what they do is somehow harmful. However, being negative and being destructive are not the same thing. We often confuse negativism with someone not caring, not believing or not willing to contribute.
Often times quite the opposite is true. Negative people point out problems and highlight risks exactly because they do care and they see what others are missing. They might say “That will not work,” or “We have a problem here,” or “We cannot do this now.” It is useful to notice that they do not do it to rock the boat. Actually they most often do it with the intention to save the boat. To save it from trouble ahead. To save energy, time, money. To prepare for all eventualities.
What we perceive as negative, they may view as careful, prudent or realistic. And this can have great value for business.
The idea is not to ostracise them or shut them up but to fully use the power of their “negativity” at the right time and in the right way. Because without it bad things can happen to good people, well though-out projects can go terribly wrong (just think about the Challenger space shuttle incident in the eighties where a small neglected mistake caused a major catastrophe), and businesses with great potential can underachieve or falter.
So how can we turn the negative into constructive?
By seeing its purpose first and that is – like the police – to serve and to protect.
:: Where do you need more protection, more details to be paid attention and more risk to be seen and managed?
:: What products or projects would benefit from a more critical eye in terms of checking priorities, risk, cost and timing?
:: Where do you need to hear an honest assessment of the current situation and a pragmatic way to address current problems?
Interestingly, these apparently negative people can not just clearly see the risks and identify the shortcomings but also they will come up with surprisingly elegant strategies and solutions on how to deal with them – if you give them access to the data, space to analyse them and enough time to think.
We can choose who we surround ourselves with and whom we choose as business partners, employees or team members – and how we interact with them. In that choice, a balanced team and a successful business cannot afford not to have some “negative” people and make the most out of their gift. In the last analysis, it is not about who appears to be positive and who appears to be negative, but what allows the team and business to best fulfil on its mission. “Negative” as much as “positive” people are both mission critical.