Negativity Bias: How thinking creates poor outcomes

By Marsha Petrie Sue, MBA

“Blame it on our brains. Our ‘negativity bias,’ an ancient survival mechanism, hardwires us to be nitpickers, focusing on what’s wrong as a way to keep ourselves and our tribe safe,” says an article in the Wall Street Journal. While this Wall Street Journal article focuses on parenting, children grow up to be in the workforce.

why we have a negativity biasIn today’s business environment, the focus must be on leveraging strengths while minimizing weaknesses. Annual appraisals highlight what needs to change.  By the way, if a manager waits until appraisal time to announce deficiencies, they are not leading but looking for a scapegoat of sorts.

Negativity Bias creates stress, reduces loyalty and erodes confidence.  A positive focus creates strengths, recognizes problems and addresses solutions.  Excessive praise, in my opinion, resolves nothing and creates an environment of entitlement, narcissism and false expectations.  Everyone does not get a trophy as an adult.


Consider using the ‘liked best’ and ‘next time’ approach when giving feedback.  Explain what went right, then discuss considerations for what needs to change for the next time. Stay away from the ‘you could have’, ‘you should have’, and ‘you might have.’ This language resolves nothing and highlights negativity. The past cannot be changed.

I don’t recommend many books but if you want some excellent advice, I highly recommend the new book by Larry Winget, What’s Wrong with Damn Near Everything. And buy it for your friends and family. . . they need it, too.

“But I don’t talk negatively,” you may be saying to yourself.  Here is the challenge. Record a few of your conversations and you decide.  If you want the Communication Cheat Sheet, please CLICK HERE.


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Professional Speaker, Executive Coach, Best Selling Author
Marsha Petrie Sue, MBA

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