Encouraging Pure Possibility

In the current climate in many organizations, there seems to be an ever-growing legion of naysayers and grumblers. Negative attitudes can bring whole legions of employees down (remember the saying that “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch”?).

Although a leader isn`t expected to be Pollyanna, they may find it important to keep morale up. There is a way of taking negative statements and turning them around into pure possibility; a place most of us love to visit.

This technique, often used by coaches, doesn`t always work to bring spirits up (the real “Negative Nancy`s” may stomp out of the room), but it can sometimes change an otherwise unconstructive conversation into something more positive and open a window in a negative conversation into hope and possibility. It can also break through negative judgments and assumptions. Here are some examples of the technique:

Downer comment: “We can`t possibly accomplish that.”
Your response: “If it was possible, how would you do it?”

Downer comment: “It would take too long to do that.”
Your response: “If it takes too long, how can you make it short?”

Downer comment: “He has so much going for him, but isn`t performing well.”
Your response: “If that individual isn`t performing well, how can you (or we) help him to perform better?”

Downer comment: “I can`t talk to him .”
Your response: “If you could talk to him, what would you say?”

Downer comment: “I don`t have time in my day for that.”
Your response: “If you had time in your day, how much could you spare?”

You get the picture. Try raising some spirits, hope, and possibility in your organization using this technique!

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

13 comments on “Encouraging Pure Possibility

  1. I like it. Sounds so much better than, "why do you have to be so negative?" "what the heck do you mean by that?" or something along those lines -which I absolutely have been known to say.

  2. Mary Jo,
    Great post. Many people use the current state of the economy as a means to accentuate the negative around the workplace. Alternatively, I would argue utilizing positive affect in the presence of difficult circumstances helps establish a strong situation within an organization.

  3. The power lies in the fact that only in possibility do we move to action. Reality happens and you always choose how you see and interpret it! So, it helps to find a way to re-visit your thinking about current circumstances in a way that moves you forward, separates you from the feeling of helplessness. Pure possibility is always an option! Thx for reminding us in this post.

  4. Wonderful mix of philosophy and technique, Mary Jo. Thinking about possibilities is energizing. It draws you forward.

  5. Love this, Mary Jo. Keep in mind this negativity is a learned behavior, and our job as leaders is to get folks to learn new and more productive behaviors. Great examples! Keep up the good work. Bret

  6. Lisa, how true. Accusations certainly don't work to lift anyone's thoughts or behaviors!

    Kevin, agreed. You just reminded me of the courage it takes for a leader to express positivity in the face of strong negative climates.

    Monica, possibility can be a strong motivator for action!

    Wally, I think speakers who speak of "possibility" are the most energizing. I always feel uplifted after hearing and participating in that kind of keynote.

    Bret, what I love about the questions is that they do help negative people to take ownership for the possibilities that can be realized. Thus, over time, and with diligence, when we live in such questions, behavior can change.

  7. I like the positive spin you can put on the negative comments that plague the workplace. I pride myself on actually constantly maintaing a positive attitude and making trying to see the bright side of everything. The best thing I have noticed about this is that it can be so contagious in the workplace. People feed off of each others energy, why not make it positve.

  8. This is so true, a really efective tool, have used it in the past and it works, you have to bring out that positive attitude, this will bring positive results.

  9. It's great! Negative attitude doesn't help or improve anything, and it usually let people become frustrated and disappoint. The ways you suggested are not only raising some hope in an organization, but remind ourself to have a positive attitude. Sun-Hua

  10. That proverbial cup gets half-empty so easily! Your tips to help people rephrase, and hence regroup, are great reminders to be positively open-minded!

  11. Danielle, Good for you for doing your best to keep a positive attitude and noticing how it spreads in the workplace. Its true – emotions are "catching", so they might as well be positive ones! Thanks for sharing.

    Aaron, thanks and keep up the great work?

    Sun-Hua, have fun trying out this simple tool. I'd love to hear how it works for you.

    Jane, yes – simple rephrasing with a question and positive spin can open minds.

  12. Good observations. I also see this as an opportunity to introduce double-loop thinking to the negativity and help change the behavior and/or culture. (Isn't a critical attitude an open pathway to change?) For example, respond to, "We can't possibly accomplish that," with, "Why do we want to accomplish that? Can you improve on it or maybe you have another idea?"

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