I struggle with criticism. Actually, that’s a lie. I struggle more with praise — accepting it that is and, perhaps, also giving it … which feels hard to admit.
I recently attended a Bermuda Festival event. It was amazing, beautiful, moving and totally out of my realm of capability. Yet the first things to come out of my mouth were comments on the bits I liked least, areas where I felt it fell short or could have improved. Yeesh! What a Negative Nancy I can be.
Shoe on the other foot, however, I find criticism crushing! Last week I wrote a bit about the creative process; there is nothing that can stop mine in its tracks faster than negative feedback.
No matter how many positive things people say, even a hint of negativity and that’s all I focus on. It drowns out the good, which I write off as people just “being nice”. Criticism, I take as “truth”.
Recognising this, I have often admonished myself for being a “baby”, for being over-sensitive, not thick-skinned enough to be a true creative — they couldn’t possibly have such fragile egos. More negativity compounding this terrible fear that deep down, I might just be a miserable and mean person.
A bit of research into my negative bias has me feeling much better about myself. Turns out we’re all miserable and mean by default. Okay, not exactly, but we are evolutionarily hard-wired to be more aware of the negatives. It’s understandable considering we needed a keener eye for threats and potential hazards for survival.
Numerous studies into the psychology of negativity, and our perceptions of it, go on to explain many of my Nancy-like tendencies. Negativity does naturally make a greater impact. For example, we have a different system of processing it in our brains and it gets stored in our long-term memory more easily than positive experiences.
Other studies show that we naturally take longer to recover from a setback than we would spend celebrating a progress; that it can take at least five positive experiences to counterbalance one negative one. This last point has been at the heart of the “feedback sandwich” technique widely used to cushion negative feedback between positives.
Further research shows, however, that we are more likely to pay attention to what’s said following negative remarks. This suggests it’s better to give the bad news up front, and follow it with the five-plus good things to balance it out.
Communication experts found it’s common to subconsciously perceive people who make negative comments as more intelligent than those who make positive ones, hence why we are more likely to pay attention to them. Also explaining why we might be quick to find fault and be negative, subconsciously seeking to seem smarter. Knowing my negativity is in some ways human nature doesn’t, however, make it feel right or helpful.
If negativity is the default, I’m now all the more aware of the need to consciously focus on the positives: to celebrate wins — even the small ones — to balance out the difference; to rein in the criticism and fault-finding, aware of negativity’s knock-on effects; to build resilience in combating the old, default conditioning; to recover faster from the setbacks and see the intelligence and power of positivity. Bye-bye Nancy!
• Julia Pitt is a trained success coach and certified NLP practitioner on the team at Benedict Associates. For further information contact Julia on 705-7488, www.juliapittcoaching.com.</i>