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Fend Off the Negativity Effect

When you ask a seasoned executive whether they first want to hear the good news or the bad news, they almost always ask for the bad news first. The reason is simple. They don’t have to do anything about the good news, but are likely to have to act on the bad news. In this sense, the bad news carries more weight. 

Research studies on human judgment confirm that positive information disappears quickly, while negative information lingers in our memory. This is especially true when our performance is in question. That people weigh negativity and flaws more heavily is found everywhere in the annals of the behavioral science on judgment. 

Good leaders remember this and refrain from playing into the hands of what is called “the negativity effect.” Because negative information has a greater impact on issues central to leadership, including attention, learning, memory, risk-taking, motivation, and morale, the best leaders are especially mindful to accentuate the positive and focus on the benefits and advantages of an issue before examining the negatives. 

This is critically important when offering feedback to an individual or a team. If we don’t begin with the positive and an emphasis on what went right, a leader can unintentionally undermine confidence and create a sour impression of events and outcomes. 

When we fend off the negativity effect, we place a premium on learning over failure. We elevate action over retreat. Positivity matters to leaders not because it suggests a rosy picture, but because it fights a human tendency to overweigh information that can paralyze improvement and success. Rebuff negativity by being a positive force for change. That starts with what we emphasize first. 

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