The Gift of Negativity: What We Gain By Faultfinding, Nitpicking, and Naysaying
Painful experiences teach you to protect yourself. The tools of self-protection are faultfinding, nitpicking, naysaying, and quibbling.
Experience gives birth to protective negativity.
The birth of negativity:
“If a cat sits on a hot stove, that cat won’t sit on a hot stove again. That cat won’t sit on a cold stove either. That cat just don’t like stoves.” Mark Twain
A painful experience with a hot stove makes you critical, skeptical, cantankerous and disagreeable.
The gift of negativity is about NOT DOING. But ‘not doing’ doesn’t get much done.
There are a few people who think of how something might work, but in my experience, they are the dodo birds in the crowd. Faultfinding is an Olympic Sport on average teams.
Avoiding is stronger than pursuing.
People have a stronger negative reaction to losing $20 than the positive feelings they have from gaining $20. (Kahneman – Thinking, Fast and Slow)
5 ‘advantages’ of faultfinding, nitpicking, and naysaying:
- Admiration: You seem wise when you explain why something won’t work.
- Time: You don’t waste energy on things that probably won’t work.
- Stability: You don’t need to change when you kill ideas before they grow legs.
- Power: You empower yourself by blocking other people’s ideas.
- Security: You protect the status quo, even if you complain about it.
It’s natural to say, “That won’t work.” It’s leadership to ask, “What’s useful?”
- Define your goal.
- Engage in open conversation.
- Don’t silence reason givers – people who give reasons why something won’t work.
- Evaluate suggestions, reasons, and ideas by asking, “With our goal in mind, what’s useful about that?”
The “Usefulness” lens:
“How is this useful?” empowers people to explore, adapt, or eliminate suggestions or ideas.
“What’s useful?” treats all ideas equally.
Apart from “What’s useful?”, negative bias wins.
Bonus: The ‘useful’ lens enables learning. Nitpicking blocks learning.
What ‘advantages’ do you see in faultfinding, naysaying, and nitpicking?
How might leaders create future-building conversations?
Dan, I’m using today’s post in my Organizational Change & Conflict Management class today. As leaders, it is so easy to say “that won’t work”, when insufficient thought or consideration has been given to the suggestion or plan. Another question is “How do you see this moving us toward our goals”? Explore rather than shooting it down is a more effective option and it build openness & trust within the team.
Thanks McSteve. I hope it’s useful. You’ve nailed the key idea. Keep an explorer’s mindset even if experience has taught us to close the door to risky ideas. There’s a difference between exploring an idea and implementing it.
Nitpicking an Olympic sport,and I have worked with several gold medal contenders over the years. Sometimes, it is a valuable exercise to ask why they feel something won’t work. You then identify potential barriers and can develop realistic plans. Other times, though, the person is just after that individual gold medal rather than helping the team move the goal.
Thanks Jennifer. Nothing like a gold medal nit picker. In some cases, it doesn’t matter what you do. They’re going to nitpick. Often, the issues is commitment. Those who aren’t committed to do something find fault.
I like to believe we are hampering growth by nitpicking, soon they tune you out, out with a yeah, yeah, knowing you hit a nerve. I think when we phrase the statement in a fashion that shows that’s great what you did, however the client prefers this because it works better for them when the do ABC etc. Spend less time micro managing and more time building up the support.
Kahneman’s book is a good read. We have so many biases, all of us. His book shows how to manage them.
Best work lesson I ever learned came when a problem arose and I too heavily explained the situation to my boss. He pointed his finger in my face and said, “I don’t care what the problem is–it’s your job to solve it!” From then on, my response has been, “I’ll take care of it.”