Last week, I talked about the “positive flip”: the idea of taking an area where a negativity bias may be narrowing our perspective and considering it from a more positive vantage point. Today’s article is about how to apply this in the real world.
First of all, there is some research on this in the sports world by psychologist Dr. Daniel Kirschenbaum. Kirschenbaum looked at novice golfers and bowlers to see if they would learn more from their mistakes or their successes.
In the bowlers’ study, all participants were given a lesson from a pro that covered 7 fundamentals of the game (stance, grip, foot position, etc.) After the lesson, one group was given instructions to “self-monitor” their performance in a negative way (they were given a checklist of the seven fundamentals and asked to note every time they made a mistake so that they could avoid those mistakes in the future.)
A second group was asked to positively “self-monitor” their performance. In this condition they receive the same checklist, but with instructions to note down every time they do something well so they can learn from their successes.
A third control group was just told to practice what they learned in the lesson with no self-monitoring instructions given.
As predicted, the group that focused on the things that they did well showed the most improvement after practicing. (It should be emphasized that these were novice bowlers. Presumably, advanced athletes would need to focus more on correcting their mistakes.)
This is a perfect example of “the positive flip.” Take an area, like athletic coaching, where our natural tendency is to focus on the negative, to fix what’s broken, to point out what’s not working, and flip it on its head. It turns out that the positive approach is a more effective way to develop new skills.
So how else can you apply this in the real world? Just think about anywhere that you might be falling into a natural tendency towards negativity.
Parenting, for example. How often do you find yourself reacting to the things you don’t want your child to do:
“Be quiet.” “Stop doing that.” “Don’t hit your sister.” “That’s not nice.”
As opposed to reacting to the things that are going well:
“I love it when you play quietly like that.” “Thank you for being so respectful to your sister.” “You are being so good right now!”
Professionally, how much do see your job as fixing problems, disciplining employees when they do something wrong, or handling customer complaints? Many mid-level managers will say they spend a majority of their time “putting out fires.”
Applying the positive flip means focusing on what is going well. Instead of calling the employee who has been late three times that month into your office, give a reward in a public meeting to the employee who has never been late. Instead of giving a discount to an irate customer, give a discount to a customer who has been a pleasure to work with. The “Appreciative Inquiry” commons website has a database of case studies on companies that have applied the positive flip to their business in some way.
I want to clarify that the positive flip is not the same as positive thinking. The presumption is not that the positive flip is always better. Rather, this is about recognizing that sometimes these positive approaches will escape us if we don’t consciously consider them. Because we have evolved to be on the lookout for danger, we are naturally drawn towards the negative.
The positive flip is simply about being open to other possibilities. It’s about trying on a new perspective and seeing if it works better or not. If the positive flip works, you’ve found a new strategy for success. If it doesn’t work, you can always flip back.
by Jeremy McCarthy
P.S. My course on Positive Leadership in Spas and Hospitality will be starting again next week on January 21. The course teaches how to apply this positive flip in business to overcome negativity bias, learn from and use strengths, and create a culture that celebrates success and fosters meaningful work. If you would like to learn more about the course, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.