Combat Negativity by Bringing the Positive to Life

Written by:

Enliven the PositiveDoes it seem like some people choose to be negative? In many ways it’s our basic nature, but it has damaging consequences to our creative and cognitive performance. Here’s a remedy for shifting a team’s emotions from negative to positive, but it requires understanding a bit about our conscious minds.

Understand Conscious Awareness

Our conscious minds are attracted to the emotional. Our cognitive and emotional systems constantly process a vast array of stimuli, yet most of that processing occurs below our conscious awareness. Our brains can hold only one conscious thought at a time, and that one thought arises when the system responsible for conscious awareness becomes privy to an activity occurring at the unconscious level. The conscious mind will award priority to an emotional stimulus. While our minds unconsciously process all stimuli, they grab emotional stimuli faster than others, bringing them into our conscious awareness.

So in a sense we are attached to the emotional. Unfortunately, we can easily feed this addiction in most work environments. Without trying too hard, we can almost always find something that evokes negative emotion, such as a threat that makes our financial future somewhat insecure or perhaps another employee who’s not entirely likeable. Even if these things aren’t such a big deal, our minds can latch onto them, inducing negative emotions that kill our ability to perform our best. So, as a team leader, it’s important to give a team something emotionally positive to latch onto.

Enliven the Positive

 Most of us know what makes teams feel negative, but what arouses positive emotions in a work team? Interesting work and cordial team-mates are great to have, but they don’t usually fire up our emotions. Strategic plans and revenue charts, no matter how compelling or upward-trending, can’t cut it either. But a story about how our team efforts improve our lives and the lives of others can be just the ticket. Work activities and plans and charts are cold and hard and lifeless; people’s lives are messy and sticky and gooey and compelling.

A team’s work can touch lives positively through the content they provide, such as a pharmaceutical research team developing cures for those in need, or they can do it through the context of their work, such as a team culture that truly honors the achievement and growth of each individual. Either way, the more vividly you can describe the positive impact of your work on peoples’ lives, the more you will populate your team-mates’ conscious minds with emotionally positive thoughts that spark peak performance. Identify the most compelling way in which your team makes lives better, and define it in a way that elicits strong positive emotion.

Keep It Visible

Once you’ve defined the best way to create positive emotions in the team, use symbols to keep it fresh in their minds. Make them vivid and tangible, so people can picture them in their mind’s eye. Lines the walls with photos of how your team’s efforts change lives. Illustrate the good you do with compelling stories shared at team events.

Team leaders who wish to create positive emotions with the power to boot out the negative will find that emotionally uplifting stories and visuals help people replace their negative thoughts and emotions with the more positive ones they need to perform well at their jobs. This helps boost the creativity and cognitive ability needed to be successful in today’s business environments.

As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of emotions in teams, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. For more on shaping team emotions to increase creativity and performance, get notified of the upcoming book Primal Teams: Harnessing the Incredible Power of Group Energy or sign up for a monthly summary of articles.


About the Author:

Jackie Barretta is a thought leader sharing ideas on how to create a more just and peaceful world. She is also a CIO, and in this role she has led large organizations with hundreds of employees through challenging times and major transformations.
  Related Articles


  1. Michaela Koch  June 23, 2013

    Great article Jackie. Too few people recognize how our reptile hind-brain affects our responses at work.Great tips for bringing the +ve and then harnessing. iIt is the classic leadership challenge

  2. Bob Herling  June 23, 2013

    Negatively and flat out bad attitude seems to be growing in the workplace. Not only is it growing but in many cases goes unchecked…Perhaps this is answer to why it is so pervasive in the work environment.

  3. Lawrence Schwartz  June 23, 2013

    Great article, as usual, Jackie! Question: At what point does negativity impact culture whereby creating a culture of incivility? In a previous organization where I worked, there was/is an entrenched culture that when positivity was brought to the forefront, the underlying negativity overwhelmed efforts to keep positive momentum. Might you have suggestions for dealing with such entrenched workplace cultures? I’m currently working on my PhD, and this topic is my dissertation topic. Thank you in advance!

  4. Jackie Barretta  June 23, 2013

    Lawrence, it sounds like the problem could be a trust issue, where employees don’t believe the positivity is genuine. Perhaps there’s a history of leadership manipulating the people, or at least the people perceiving it that way?

  5. Gold Price  July 8, 2013

    5. Positive motivation is most effective. Leaders use two sets of emotions to motivate change: negative and positive. In “crisis motivation” and “burning platform” rationales, the basic idea is to frighten people into compliance. And there is no doubt that negative emotions can be effective. Fear, anger, and disgust all trigger physiological responses that prepare the body for quick and specific actions. But far more frequently, organizational change is neither quick nor specific. Rather, it is continuous, evolutionary and often strangely ambiguous in nature — a fact which requires much more innovative and flexible approaches to its management. For this kind of change negative emotions aren’t much help at all. In fact, negativity significantly diminishes problem-solving abilities and narrows rather than expands creative thinking. That why today’s most effective change agents focus primarily on positive emotions that motivate people to commit to change and to act on that commitment.

  6. Joanne McGhee  July 19, 2013

    It is so true some people do look at the world in a negative way. So much so they get stuck and are not able to see their situation in any other way. In fact a friend of mine recently said she was blocked and didn’t know how to remove this block so she can move forward. Thank you for sharing this message.

  7. Roland Silverio  July 19, 2013

    I love the way you think! Our thoughts can have great impact on how we connect to the world. If I am thinking I can not the most likely I will not….

  8. Deborah Scroggin  July 19, 2013

    I found this article very educational, even as it applies to a non professional environment. This should be a must read for all managers for, at the very least, a reminder of what to be on the look out for when working within teams environments.


Add a Comment