Work and The World

Embrace the Nay-Sayers in your Life

Typically, when you try something new and tell people about it you will overwhelmingly get two types of reactions; 1) a supportive jubilance with a side of subjective positivity; or 2) polite caution with a subtle kick of scepticism that it will work out.  So, for example, when you decide to take the leap from Corporate giant to Independent Consultant you could expect to get a version of the following:

  1. Supportive Jubilance. “That’s absolutely brilliant, I know that you will be great at consulting.  I would totally use you.  I will be happy to recommend you to others”, or:
  2. Polite Caution. “Wow, that’s brave.  I have heard that the market is really tough at the moment.  Have you done the sums?”

The first thing to note about these situations of course is that they are less about you and what you are doing and more about the person you are discussing it with.  Both are attempting in their own way to do the right thing by you, but through a very different lens.

Overwhelmingly it is much easier to hear from our ‘Supportive Jubilant’ friend, family member or colleague.  Our supportive jubilant reinforces our decision and reduces our own fears of taking a step into the unknown.  Our supportive jubilant gives us confidence to go forward and if nothing else leaves you feeling that you will have at least one supporter out there in the world. These folks are incredibly important and it is critical to know that your first sale, view, like or opportunity will come from this group.

Our Polite Cautionaries on the other hand are a tougher pill to swallow.  They bring us back down to earth with a thud and remind us of all of the concerns that might be floating around in the back of our minds.  A conversation with a polite cautionary may leave you with mixed feelings about your direction or concept, and reduce your confidence in your decision.  Our Polite Cautionaries are our risk adverse friends, family or colleagues.  Even though they may be pleased for you, and support you, they cannot help but filter your decision through a risk adverse world view.

The problem of course, with either group, is that it only represents one view on a spectrum.  There is no real right or wrong, but it is easy to get stuck in one mindset or the other.  According to research, we are programed to put a greater emphasis on the negative than the positive.  The reasons, as with anything to do with the way the human mind works, are complex, but basically it is connected with evolution and survival. If you remember and store the negative, then you are far more likely to avoid it into the future.

Dr R.F Baumeister, a research psychologist who wrote a paper titled ‘Bad is Stronger than Good’ says:

“Those who are more attuned to bad things would have been more likely to survive threats and, consequently, would have increased the probability of passing along their genes,” 

You can read more about his work here and here

One of the ways of combatting the issue of negative feedback is to avoid it all together.  Just go to the folks who you know will say positive things about your decisions.  We all do this to some extent within our lives.  The people we tend to socialise with and our social media feeds will generally be a reflection of our own thoughts and values.  We follow what we believe.  But the problem is that we can find ourselves in an echo chamber, where, of our own design, we have surrounded ourselves with others that agree with us and insulated ourselves from those who don’t.  The very real danger of this is that you lose the ability to see another perspective, or have your view widened or challenged.  Stuck in an echo chamber, you may only hear that it is a great idea to begin consulting on your own, without the very valuable insight of other concerns.

The polite cautionary may sound like a nay-sayer to you when you are very excited about the direction you are heading in, but it is wise to seek counsel from those that agree with you and those that don’t.  It doesn’t mean that you can’t disagree with them or prove them wrong in the long run, but it is also the nay-sayers in your life who may pull you back from the brink when making a decision could be detrimental to your future.

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