Your negativity bias is a leadership liability, and Kathy Cramer wants to help you change.
In her new book, Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do, the psychologist and consultant teaches leaders how to train their brains to approach themselves, others and the situations they find themselves in from a base of positivity.
Cramer explains that our negativity bias — the neural circuitry of the brain that compels us to respond faster and more intensely to problems than possibilities — blinds us to the assets and advantages inherent in a stressful situation. When a leader is caught up in that negativity, it can trigger a downward spiral that affects everyone around them.
Cramer’s approach — called Asset-Based Thinking (ABT) — helps leaders shift three things:
- What they see: how to see more of the possibilities than the problems of any given situation.
- What they say: how to connect the positive things you see to what you say to others.
- What they do: how to use the positive trajectory of what you see and say to act intentionally.
She argues that by shifting what you see, say and do toward assets and possibilities, you will solve problems faster, inspire others, react better to stressful situations, improve organizational culture and get better results over the long term.
How do we learn Asset-Based Thinking? Cramer offers three tools as a way to start:
1. Take the See, Think, Feel test. Feelings are a great marker of your thinking. Tune in to your emotions in any situation. If you are feeling negative, you are locked in to the negativity track. Trace your feelings back to what you are thinking about and seeing. What are you focused on? If you recognized you are focused only on the problems, what is not working, what you fear, it’s time to shift your perspective and trigger positive feelings.
2. Make an ASA shift. To get away from a negative bias and onto a positive thinking channel, you need to acknowledge, scan and act. In the moment (see No.1) or as you reflect on a situation you could be handling better, first acknowledge that the negative aspects are probably true or real but they are not helpful. Next, scan for something positive — just one potential upside for you or your team. What is the value/reward in dealing with the situation effectively? Then, act — take one step toward the potential gain. Small steps of productive action will interrupt the negativity track before it takes over.
3. Scan, Snap, Savor. Build your positivity reserves by taking in the good of any given moment. Get in the habit of scanning for what’s working in any situation. It could be how others are making a contribution, how a situation is playing out in your favor, or your own leadership strengths, capabilities and efforts that are showing up to move things forward. Take a mental snapshot, zooming in and focusing on just one of the positive elements of your scan. Then savor it. Relive it for 30-60 seconds. In less than 90 seconds, you give yourself a lift, boost your confidence and create new neural pathways.
Of course, the ability to shift away from a negative bias to a positive one isn’t about ignoring a problem or being foolishly optimistic.
“If you’re losing market share or an external factor has affected shipping, you can’t pretend it isn’t happening. You can’t call a dog a frog,” Cramer says.
“Asset-Based Thinking is about putting aside the fix-it reaction in order to move into a more responsive, creative mode,” she explains. “The positive side of an experience will have a ripple effect, moving you and others to find solutions to complex problems.”