Fed up of negative people at the office? Richard Templar, author of new book The Rules of People, found them infuriating until he realised how useful they were to get ahead
I always used to find negative people irritating. I’m not that way inclined myself – more likely to be the fool that rushes in, than to look for reasons not to do something. To me, negative people were pessimistic, depressing, disruptive and destructive. I couldn’t see the point of them.
Then I worked in an organisation which relied on constantly bringing new products to market. We needed a steady flow of ideas. The ones that worked could make the company good money, but the ones that didn’t grab our customers’ imaginations made a loss – as well as using up time and resources that could otherwise have gone into a winning idea.
It drove me mad the way he could put the dampeners on almost any idea. Until I started to notice something
We had a director in our creative think tank who always looked on the negative side of any idea. Outside work he was a lovely guy with an unexpectedly positive approach to life. But in meetings he was always starting sentences with, ‘It won’t work, because . . . ’. It drove me mad the way he could put the dampeners on almost any idea. Until I started to notice something.
The power of the pessimist
Every time we ploughed ahead regardless of his concerns, we ended up with a product that just didn’t sell well. Whereas when we managed to counter all his criticisms effectively, often adapting the original idea in order to do so, we generally managed to produce a really successful product. Actually, this guy may have sounded negative but he was being incredibly useful to us. The rest of us had a bit of a tendency to be enthusiastic about almost any idea, whereas he really took some persuading. And that meant our ideas were much better tested and honed before we gave them the green light.
How the negative person can be useful to you
I still find negativity irritating at times, but I recognise that it’s an essential part of any project, from developing products to buying a house, packing for a holiday, starting a new business, planning a garden, changing jobs. You need someone to help you spot the problems before they happen, and that person is going to have to sound pretty negative at times if they’re going to be of real help.
If they won’t give you any more detailed feedback, you have my permission to ignore them
When they’re negative, get details
The other thing they’ll need in order to help properly is to be specific. Negative people who just say, ‘I bet it won’t work’, or ‘You’re wasting your time’, without giving you a reason aren’t helpful at all. Even if they turn out to be right. Especially if they turn out to be right. Because I bet if that happens, they’ll be the first to say, ‘I told you so’, when actually they didn’t really tell you so. They didn’t tell you how or why you’d fail. They didn’t tell you what precautions to take or which part of the project was flawed.
When you encounter a negative voice, always ask for specifics. ‘Why won’t it work? Which bit is the problem? What would you do differently?’ If they won’t give you any more detailed feedback, you have my permission to ignore them and find them irritating. But if they can give you a reason for being negative, I really recommend you listen. Even if they’re wrong, thinking the idea or project through with a sceptical eye can only help you get it right in the end.
You need someone to help you spot the problems before they happen.
Buy The Rules of People: A personal code for getting the best from everyone by Richard Templar for £7.99 on Amazon, published by Pearson.
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