Monday 22 April 2019

No buts: how to say yes to banishing negative thought

Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon. Write to Gina care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie Stock image
Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon. Write to Gina care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie Stock image

Gina London

'You have power over your mind. Realise this, and you will find strength." Powerful words to ponder this Sunday summer morning from Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.

I'm a fan of his and a few other Roman emperors, as I'm passionate about ancient history - particularly that of Italy, where I was fortunate to live for three years and where I was also fortunate to spend last week on holiday.

During that time, in addition to focusing on Chianti classico and home-made pasta, my mind was also focused on the power each of us holds inside. I often write about being positive. The purposeful decision to focus positively can aid you in all sorts of daily interactions with contacts, clients, and colleagues.

Outside of the business world, the effects of positive thinking can be so powerful that the phenomenon of the mind's ability to create positive physical changes in the body without the aid of medication is commonly referred to by scientists as the placebo effect.

You've heard about that. But what happens when the thoughts are negative? This is powerful too. In 1961 a doctor named Walter Kennedy came up with a term for the opposite of placebo (which in Latin means 'I will please'). The counter phrase that Dr Kennedy coined is what I'm writing about today. Literally translated it means, "I will harm" or 'the nocebo effect'.

For example, if a group of patients is told about a range of nasty side effects from a drug and another group is not, research shows the first group will claim to experience a higher level of those negative side effects than the second group.

Even if the described side effects are not really connected to the drug. Or even if the drug is itself a placebo. Get it? Simply being told negative possibilities can increase the negative effects.

You might be ready to say: "Yeah, Gina. I do get it. But you're writing about expectations surrounding medical communications and I'm reading this for business communications."

Ah, gentle reader, but get this: recent studies including those from the University of Maryland in the US, indicate the effects also apply to communicating around any behaviour outcome.

Imagine how you would perform during a high-stakes presentation or interview if your boss or co-worker constantly emphasised worst-case scenarios? It doesn't mean you should completely ignore potential problems.

That's important toward finding solutions. But it does mean you can minimise the negative at the same time you're providing enough relevant information as to allow us to make free and autonomous decisions.

In other words, take care as a manager or colleague to frame information in a non-deceptive, yet reassuring way.

Here are a few tips how:

1 Be Open

Are you the kind of person who engages in an open and productive way? Or are you the first person to pick an idea apart? Do you find yourself saying: "No, that will never work", or "We can't", or "That makes no sense"? Each of those types of phrases - especially during a brain-storming session or early project meeting will reduce your team's chances of succeeding - no matter what they eventually decide. Morale is going to have to pick up from where you've let it drop.

Substitute any negative impulses to sink an idea early on by suggesting a trial run. "Let's try it for three months" may be a better option in the long run - tactically and morale-building speaking - than shooting something down immediately. A Version Two can be rolled out with lessons learned and team self-esteem still intact.

2 Be Uplifting

I once worked with an executive who was the marketing director for a major multinational. She hated giving presentations so much she would usually pass the task to her deputies. Only after I pressed, did she share how a teacher had teased her after she flubbed her lines during a school play - in primary school. All those years later, and my executive client still was unsure of her ability to speak clearly and confidently.

Even in jest, sarcasm about someone's presentation or delivery or sales performance can undermine that person for a long time.

3 Say 'Yes and…'

Imagine this exchange during a meeting.

Co-worker number one: "We should kick off the spring with a campaign."

Co-worker number two: "Yeah, but it needs to be really different."

The seemingly innocuous expression, "Yeah but..." is a communications killer. Co-worker number two starts out positive but swings around with a backhand slap. As soon as you pivot to the "but", you've negated what the person before you just said. This is not good for team-building, rapport or collaboration. Instead try the acting improv game trick of saying: "Yes and..."

Actor number one: "It's rough here out on the open seas."

Actor number two: "Yes, and it's a good thing we're hearty pirates."

The actors are taught to affirm the previous speaker's concept and then build upon it in any variety of directions. This experience is a positive one and can easily be applied to any meeting exchange to same effect.

Co-worker number one: "We should kick off the spring with a campaign."

Co-worker number two: "Yeah and it needs to be really different."

If you consciously emphasise the negative, expect more negative or nocebo results. If you reduce your negativity, you can expect more positive results. Words from my ancient Roman emperor - as relevant today as ever.

Sunday Indo Business

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