The Power of Negative Thinking

Creating high performance always sounds like a good idea. Right now, as we adjust to a world that is changing very fast around us, delivering high performance is probably more important but more challenging than ever. We are surrounded by negative news. Our British culture has a strong tendency to enjoy swapping anecdotes of how bad things are and we enjoy black humour an art form.

Human beings are hard wired to notice and give more focus to negative things. Quite simply our ancestors realised that negative changes in the environment could mean danger and death - and not many positive changes had as big an upside! Hence people are more likely to talk about bad experiences than they are to mention good ones.

Unfortunately negative interactions have a more powerful effect on us than positive. At a recent HR conference in Ireland, Dr Maureen Gaffney talked about some research into the characteristics of high performing teams and companies. One striking feature is the ratio of positive versus negative interactions. A typical person averages 2.5 positive interactions for every negative one. Flourishing individuals who are successful and healthy average 4.3 to 1. But high performing teams and organisations show significantly more positive behaviour with 5.6 positive interactions for every 1 negative. They adjust their thinking and their behaviours to be significantly more positive than their baseline state.

So how can you lift your performance and become a positive beacon in your environment? The answer is simple – relentless focus on the positive:

  • boost your appreciation of your own and others’ strengths and talents
  • look for the opportunities that do exist or have opened up
  • renew your clarity about what you want to achieve and why
  • catch yourself and others doing things well and point them out
  • expand the habit of exploring new options and ideas
  • paint yourself and others a picture of how you can move forward
  • repeat good new stories

Don’t underestimate the influence your positive thinking will have on others. Whether you are formally or informally a leader, you have the opportunity to make a difference. So do everyone a favour and rather than “mustn’t grumble” try some active “positive person”.

To contact Rosie Miller, please email her at