I believe strongly in trying to adopt a positive attitude to most things in life. So much so that when I started my business, Care Support Network, three years ago, I wrote that one of our 4 company Values that would drive our corporate behaviour would be Positivity.
What did I mean by that? I explained it at the time with these words … ‘’We cultivate a ‘YES’ culture, working hard to achieve the best outcomes for our Clients. We want clients to feel fully supported by their interaction with us. We create a positive work environment for our staff and are committed to their professional and personal development”. Lofty words perhaps? Aspirational? For sure! And yet the vast majority of our staff have fully embraced this value and can be observed living it out in their daily working lives.
One thing I’ve learned over the years, is that unless we humans actively choose to respond positively to a situation, we are more likely to gravitate towards a negative response. Negativity is often our default response. Why is that I wonder? Is it because we are taught from a young age to be careful, to not immediately trust people and to question the meaning behind what they might be telling us? Societal messages are clear and becoming louder by the day – look after yourself; stand up for yourself; look after number one; you can have anything/be anything you want etc. We are taught to prioritise our own wants and ambitions ahead of anybody else’s. These messages evoke competitiveness; that for me to win, you must lose – a very negative environment.
Inbuilt lack of trust and cynicism can grow if our life experiences knock us about and wound us physically, mentally, and emotionally. My own troubled childhood certainly damaged my ability to trust people’s motives and to generally be wary of anything anybody was saying to me.
And then I learned a very valuable lesson – you could call it a formula for living positively. Here it is …
E + R = O
E = the Events in our lives. We usually have no control over static events, be they good or bad … they just happen!
R = our Response to those Events. This, we CAN control. This is where we exercise choice! We can choose to think or respond positively to the Event (or what is being said) or conversely, we can respond negatively.
O = the Outcome that we get, which will depend on how we Respond to the Event (or what was said). Respond with a positive attitude and the resultant Outcome will generally be positive. Respond negatively and we can be guaranteed of a negative outcome.
The important thing is that we can choose how we respond to any given situation and/or statement. And the choice of response will generally determine the outcome of that situation in our lives.
Whilst we can usually control our own response to events, what happens when we feel powerless to control the responses of those around us, and of the wider organisational culture? We could challenge negative responses by presenting a different context. Asking somebody to consider that in fact the event (or what is being said) may be well-intentioned; it might be for the good of the team; it might be contributing to better outcomes for clients/staff etc. I call this ‘flipping the script’ … painting a positive scenario for consideration. As I said earlier, I am earnestly endeavoring to foster positivity within Care Support Network. In a recent conversation, I challenged a person to choose positivity in response to a situation that they had perceived negatively. I asked them to ‘flip the script’ and to try and look at the context differently from how they were seeing it. I portrayed the situation in the positive context that it was, and encouraged them to embrace that reality, rather than the context that they had interpreted.
If negativity threatens to infiltrate the organisation, despite the best efforts of leadership to encourage staff to ‘flip the script’ … what then? Leadership needs to be bold in addressing it at the source. Direct conversations with the main perpetrators – challenging them to identify what they think it would take to change their speech/behaviour and enlisting their support to make any necessary changes. Sometimes, even bolder leadership is required to remove the source of the negativity altogether.
Even when the culture is very positive, there may be times when things that are said, or actions observed, that are perceived to be inconsistent with the company’s Values … after all, humans are not perfect, and we all make mistakes at times. This refers not only to leaders/managers in the company but also to all staff.
It enhances a great culture if, when people perceive these inconsistencies, that they feel that they have the right to speak up and the opportunity to do so. It’s important though, that this is done in a way that is courteous, respectful and culture-enhancing. There are two important considerations.
Firstly, all staff should start with the premise that because the leadership/management absolutely has the company’s and its clients’ and staff’s best interests at heart, that they will always act and speak in ways that they mean to be consistent with the company’s Values. This is what I call a positive posture. This may seem counter-intuitive to our inbuilt negative default position, but it sets the tone for how to have a constructive, challenging conversation.
Secondly, a simple non-confronting way to open ‘difficult’ conversations is to use the phrase –
“Help me understand”.
This phrase suggests that yes, I am observing an inconsistency with our stated value of positivity and I’d like you to help me understand why that is. It is courteous, respectful AND can be expressed with legitimacy (consistent with the Value of positivity) and genuine concern for the company.
In short, it is a positive way to address a negative situation. Rather than pointing the finger and accusing anyone of inconsistent behaviour (a negative script) it positively invites the other person to enter into a dialogue to address one’s concerns – whether it’s a colleague, manager or leader being addressed.
Most people I know want to work in an enjoyable, safe, and positive work environment. It makes sense then that all of the members in that work environment have an individual and collective responsibility to ‘own’ the maintenance of that great culture. It’s not just up to the leaders and managers, but to all of us to contribute – and the best way to do that is to counter any negative speech or behaviour by challenging each other to choose positivity!