23 Nov How To Be Seen As “Positive” When You Think In “Negative Space”

I remember in art class loving the negative space painting exercise. It blew my mind, there was just so much information there – information that was hidden unless you looked for it.

As I moved into my career it became clear that my attention goes to the negative space first. When reading a request for proposal my brain immediately sees where our experience is lacking. When I go into a company, I can see what is lacking in leadership, team communication, and structure.

In large part this has served me well in my career. But there have been moments when people have said to me “why are you being so negative?” This was shocking; I’ve always regarded myself as a fairly positive and optimistic person.  In my mind, it’s not seeing “negatively” as much as clearly seeing the potential of opportunities and people.

Since my central goal is to bring everyone along with me, here are some ways I turned my own thinking and other’s perceptions around, while keeping the gifts that come when seeing in negative space.

1.    Start the conversation with the positive: even if it seems not natural to look at the positive first, be intentional to do it. “This is a great project, and we’ve done all these similar things with success. There are some things we need to address, let’s figure out if we can do that in other ways.”

2.    Let other “negative space” thinkers share their opinion – especially if they are in a place power and influence. If the goal is to see all sides of something, let others hold the burden of giving the “bad news” or lack of experience. If you are the one that always states the negative aspects of something, there is a danger of being singled out. As a professor once shared with me “it’s easier to single someone out, and diminish their opinion, than to actually look at the hard thing.”

3.    Try an appreciation journal. For me, thinking in negative space is a bit of a rabbit hole, I can really “go there” in all aspects of my life. To keep the light and dark in balance, try writing in an appreciation journal, sending a positive note to someone at the beginning of the day, and having the first words out of your mouth in the morning be positive or an appreciative.

Give it a week or two; try noticing how things have shifted, and maybe how people interact with you differently, or how you feel about yourself. As leaders and team members it is important that we recognize the importance of both kinds of thinking, and celebrate those differences for what they bring. Both sides of thinking are important because it brings the tension we so desperately need to keep things moving within our teams and firms.