Is pessimism killing your company’s work ethic?

You should be able to answer this question pretty quickly.

If the following phrases are abundant in your workspace, it’s likely that your leadership doesn’t know how to properly harness pessimism:

  • “You’re letting the team down.”
  • “We keep missing these metrics after trying everything.”
  • “Well, Other Company X’s team isn’t working with us at all.

Notice something here?

None of these phrases take the negative result and use it to improve. They’re all dead-end, blame-shifting claims.

In other words: none of them can count as productive pessimism.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

How Pessimism Should Spur Productivity

Pessimism is necessary in business.

It’s why we’re constantly innovating, growing, and improving the companies our species has created.

However, there’s productive pessimism and destructive pessimism.

Don’t confuse these with criticism, either – pessimism doesn’t need to involve bringing someone else into the mix. And criticism can be done from a place of success, whereas pessimism is usually looking only at failures (or possible failures).

We can get angry, be negative, and see only flaws in something but still use that as fuel for good.

But that conversion is a process that many companies are lacking, and the reason for so much unproductive behavior from employees.

And you know what decreased productivity means: a long lag time for actual improvements.

Let’s take a look at each of the example viewpoints from the listicle above and see how their pessimism could be flipped to productivity.

“You’re letting the team down”

This is problematic because it is placing the blame on a single team member, making it feel unlike any sort of “team.

The employee who takes the heat will likely experience nothing more than resentment toward the person giving them this label.

You don’t want to serve or work with someone who seems to belittle your efforts constantly.  Say good-bye to whatever team you think you’d established.

Instead of pointing a single person out in front of their coworkers (or supervisors… or employees… etc.), bring up the issues you think you’re seeing with them privately first.

Allow them to truly feel allowed to voice their point of view – and actually listen.

Even if you seem to think this person can do nothing right in their job, you may actually have very little idea what goes into their daily processes. Hear what they have to say about these.

And don’t lead the private conversation with the precedent that this meeting is “because you’re letting the team down,” either.

“We’ve tried everything”

No, you haven’t. Keep looking.

The iPhone shifted the planet and wasn’t released until 2007. There’s no way we’ve found all the ideas our species can have yet.

Decision & brainstorming fatigue are real – but instead of just throwing your papers in the air, take a break and know that your pessimism here is a good thing.

You’re being picky about something that you care about, which can change the company for good if chosen wisely.

Don’t settle. But also, don’t give up on the idea that the perfect solution is out there.

Bring in other departments, other branches, or even third-party consultants. You’ll solve the issue.

“Other Company X is not cooperating”

Did you really try to work with them, or did you just sling a bunch of information their way and expect it to happen?

Putting too much merit / dependency on a third party puts you at risk for feeling the hurt of their own disorganized systems, should they have them (and we all do).

But blaming the disorganization of a project on another company just reiterates that your own plan wasn’t as strong as you thought.

Because if you can’t work through something with your own team so that it is extremely easy on partner companies to join in, your plan has major flaws.

Use your energy to fix those before expecting others to step up and pull the weight.

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Pessimism with a Growth Mindset

You’ve probably heard of closed vs. growth mindsets as coined by Carol S. Dweck before, but if not, here they are in a nutshell:

  • CLOSED mindsets think things are inherent, unchangeable; “I failed this exam, so therefore I’m stupid.”
  • GROWTH mindsets think things are ever-changing and people can grow from mistakes/negative outcomes; “I failed this test, so I need to study harder for the next one.”

The growth mindset offers an actionable way to prevent the negative thing from occurring again.

The closed mindset does not.

If you want to improve productivity – use pessimism as a growth tool, not a closed excuse.

This is a direct contrast to how many people use pessimism in their daily lives.

Self-deprecating humor is a form of pessimism. So is sarcasm.

The pessimistic eye is more prevalent than ever, thanks to the internet – we know so much about the bad and crazy things happening in our world.

But the difference is that in life, we often use it as an excuse:

  • Yeah, well she rejected me because of my goblin nose.
  • That guy interviewing me could probably tell my suit was from Goodwill and that’s why I didn’t get the job.
  • I just love it when there’s another controversy on the news!

We blame the bad things happening in our lives on world events or things we have a hard time changing.

But in reality… we have a lot more control over how these things affect us than we often acknowledge. And when that shift is made, it’s powerful:

  • Well, my attitude wasn’t the best when I approached her & I came off as abrasive…
  • Yeah, my resume didn’t really fit what they were looking for.
  • There are controversies every day – the news needs them for ratings. They’re a business, too.

Same outcome, different outlook.

Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

Be critical. Be pessimistic. But also: be productive.

Especially if you’re the CEO or owner of the company, you’re constantly on the lookout for ways to improve performance and output.

But approaching your employees with negative feedback, especially if that’s all it is, will only further breed the incompetence you think you’re mitigating by addressing it.

What’s more – don’t be afraid yourself to receive the negative, too. You’re not perfect.

Analyze the negative. Claim and own it. But create an action plan and implement.

And, quite honestly, look with a lens of optimism at everything, too.

Employees who report high satisfaction in the workplace tend to get positive vs. negative feedback in a 6:1 ratio, according to a recent study from Harvard.

If you’re giving more negative feedback than positive, you’re probably creating a negative feedback loop.

Things will only get worse, and it’s because you didn’t look for how to harness your pessimism for the good of the company.

And what a shame that is, to waste such a lesson as failure.


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