Should you accentuate the positive or eliminate the negative?
Certainly, every leader should try to do both. Yet, given that you have limited time, attention, and resources, an interesting question is: which should take priority? Common wisdom tends to suggest that we should focus on the positive, however a growing body of research indicates that it's more important to eliminate the negative.
Bad is Stronger than Good.
This Growth Tip is our summary of an article written by Professor Bob Sutton from Stanford University.
Studies show that negative information, negative experiences, and negative people have a far deeper impact on us than positive ones.
In fact "bad" things have 5 times more impact!
The “5 Times” rule.
Think about your romantic relationship. Studies show that unless your positive interactions with your partner outnumber the negative interactions by a ratio of 5 to 1, the relationship is likely to fail. Yes, it takes 5 good interactions to make up for every bad interaction.
Obviously, we want to maximize the number of good interactions we have with people, but studies suggest that managers will get far more bang for their buck if they primarily focus their energies on eliminating the negative interactions in the workplace.
Get rid of the rotten apples.
The effect of “toxic” people in work groups is revealing. People who exhibit grumpiness, negativity, disrespect, selfishness, or laziness will drag the performance of your other team members down. These rotten apples infect everyone else. A team with just one person who exhibits any of these behaviors suffers a performance disadvantage of 30% to 40% compared to teams that have no bad apples.
The “5 Times” rule has another application. The impact on an employee's feelings of 1 negative interaction in the workplace (it could be an interaction with their manager, a coworker, or a customer) has a 5 times stronger impact than that of a positive interaction.
How can you minimize negative interactions?
Research shows that managers of high performing teams are good at holding people accountable for performance. They confront behavioral problems directly and quickly, issue more warnings and formal punishments, and promptly fire employees when warnings fail.
These no-nonsense managers inspire higher performance because they make it crystal clear that they will not tolerate poor performance or any behavior that is not aligned to the company Core Values.
They are fair and consistent however, and balance this no-nonsense approach with ample recognition and praise for good performance and good behaviors.
The key lesson for managers is - if you want to be more effective at business execution - make sure you eliminate the negative. Don't procrastinate when it comes to doing the unpleasant work.
Rooting out poor performance and negative behaviors is not fun, but playing “bad cop” is an essential part of being a successful manager.