Why do we do that?

When I asked participants for “one word” feedback on an event that I facilitated, the feedback was: Inspiring. Valuable. Engaging. Informative. Productive. Excellent. Fantastic. Interactive. On target. Interactive. Amazing. Joyful. Validating. Wonderful. Bland. Educational. Practical. Fun. Helpful. Useful. Great. Refreshing. Positive. Beneficial. Awesome. Inspirational. Just what I needed. Terrific. Eye-opening. 

But guess what I saw?
Inspiring. Valuable. Engaging. Informative. Productive. Excellent. Fantastic. Interactive. On target. Interactive. Amazing. Joyful. Validating. Wonderful. BLAND. Educational. Practical. Fun. Helpful. Useful. Great. Refreshing. Positive. Beneficial. Awesome. Inspirational. Just what I needed. Terrific. Eye-opening.

Actually, more accurately, I saw:
BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND. BLAND.

Twenty-eight affirming, positive responses, but I immediately hyper-focused on the one negative reply. That criticism was a drop of water in a sea of compliments, yet it jumped out at me like a shark — and I mean JAWS, not Baby Shark. (doo dooo doo doooo)

negative

Why do I do that? Why do so many of us do that?

Oddly enough, I’m a pretty positive person. I am not a “my rose-colored glasses see that glass is half full!” kind of optimist, but I am a “presume positive intent because that glass is refillable” kind of optimist; I can usually see the best in situations (and in people). I know, intellectually, that our brains are kind of hardwired to see the negative, that it’s natural that criticism stings, and that in the big picture, a little dissent is not a big deal – yet that BLAND BLAND BLAND still jumps out at me, too.

It’s human nature, I guess, to focus on the negative. I see it again and again with managers and employees, teachers and students, husbands and wives, parents and children, and yes, with consultants and clients, too. A positive, productive conversation can quickly take a turn when less-than-pleasant information is shared; some people turn off or “check out” of the conversation immediately, while others respond with big emotions.

What can we do about that?

When clients ask me what to do in those situations, I try to focus on strategies that enhance communication and help everyone move forward without lingering negativity. The solution isn’t to stop having difficult conversations, or to use the good-intentioned but ill-fated “sandwich technique.” Rather, we need to acknowledge that conversations are difficult – and to know that the listener might still be stuck on BLAND even when the speaker has moved on.  There’s such potential in that moment when someone pauses to validate how you’re feeling, even when those feelings are uncomfortable.

Of course, that level of communication is sometimes easier said than done. Despite my best efforts to practice what I preach, I do still occasionally get caught up in negativity, as evidenced by my recent BLAND BLAND BLAND dilemma. I wish I didn’t do that, but I do. So for now, knowing that what I focus on grows, I’m just going to pause, acknowledge that it made me uncomfortable, and move on.

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