Negative Brains at Work - Five Ways to Fight Back

The brain is a fascinating machine.  It powers our bodies, propels our actions, keeps us safe when there’s a sabretooth tiger in the house… all sorts of magical things.

It is also a saboteur. Research has shown that the brain is more likely to latch on to negative stimuli than positive.  Brain activity, when shown negative images is notably higher than when shown positive or neutral images.  We’ve become hardwired to focus on the negative and protect ourselves.

What about when there is no image or information to go by?  The sabotage continues.  Our brain taps into the hardwiring and our creativity and fills in the gaps by creating stories which tend toward the negative.  Whether this morphs into full-on rumors or merely harmful assumptions held to oneself, it isn’t good.

The antidote?  Disciplined, meaningful appreciation and gratitude.

Before you roll your eyes and click elsewhere, hear this out.

According to Glassdoor,

  • 70% of employees would feel better about their work and themselves if their boss showed appreciation
  • 81% would up their efforts
  • 53% would stay put and not look for other work if they felt more appreciation from their boss

Fast Company reported that a lack of gratitude from their supervisors and the company is a major factor driving job dissatisfaction, turnover, absenteeism, and poor performance.

Living with gratitude provides us with personal benefits as well. 

According to Psychology Today, gratitude improves our relationships, physical and mental health, and levels of stress.

In short, gratitude and appreciation impact the value and performance of your company by creating a culture where people want to be, create their best work, and share mutual successes.  In turn, there is improved performance and profitability.

In this month of November, “National Gratitude Month,” it strikes me that creating a gratitude-filled culture doesn’t come naturally for many of us, part due to our negativity bias and part due to an impression that strong cultures embody strong, tough-minded approaches.  Well, it’s time to call “bull.” Clearly, the above statistics suggest otherwise. 

To hit the reset button, there are five steps we can take in our workplaces:

  1. Assess what the level of trust and appreciation in your workplace. If it’s low, dig deeper and with an open mind to discover what actions leadership have taken to foster the mistrust and fear.  Root it out and eliminate it. 
  1. Weave gratitude and appreciation into a daily routine and into workplace communication. It starts with the tone from the top:
  • Owners and CEOs carry the ultimate responsibility for being role models
  • Leadership teams may benefit from training on the importance of and techniques for showing appreciation to team members on a regular and consistent basis
  • Compassion, empathy, and positivity will not come naturally. Be patient but persistent.  Identify and name disciples within leadership as champions to effect incremental change.
  • Accountability systems routinely focus on the negative when something wasn’t done as expected. These systems should be upgraded to include celebrations when plans, milestones, and/or expectations are achieved. 
  1. Identify and develop techniques for showing appreciation and gratitude that fit your company, team, and an individual
  • Ideas may include the personal thank you notes, well-timed treat days, compensation adjustments, recognition to peers or others, activities that reciprocate or help another person out, and so on. Be creative and fun.
  • For an individual, in addition to the above, the most valuable way to show appreciation and gratitude is through ensuring a person feels seen and heard. This comes from active listening, acknowledging that you heard what they said and the emotions they are displaying, sincerely thanking them for communicating what they did, and codesigning what next steps should look like.
  • Think through where the appreciation “belongs” and what is appropriate for the particular audience
  • Showing appreciation to the group when it was the substantive efforts of one person or vice versa, when the focus is on the individual when it was a group effort, might backfire. Depending on the situation, it may be appropriate to show gratitude to both in their own way.
  • Not everyone appreciates the same kind of recognition or show of appreciation. For example, praising a painfully shy, private person at a public event in front of the entire company may be horrifying to them but an absolute thrill for someone else.  Financial rewards may be perfect for one person whereas flexibility on their start time may be far more meaningful for someone juggling caretaking responsibilities.
  • Appreciation and gratitude via words is important and may be enough for some people or some situations. However, other times, backing them up with action is crucial to reinforce that the gratitude was genuine. 
  1. Offer low to no-cost benefits to employees to help them enhance their gratitude and mindfulness skills.
  • Some ideas may include coordinating volunteer work/events to do together, on-site yoga or other mindfulness classes during lunch hours, or encouraging people to take their breaks when they should.
  • Ask them. They are in the best position to help you figure out what will be most meaningful to them. 
  1. Integrate gratitude into your own life. If you pause and think about it, it’s guaranteed that you know how to enhance this in your daily routine.  Perhaps it’s a gratitude journal.  Maybe its setting a daily alarm to go off at the same time every day that you name “Be grateful” or “Say thank you,” reminding you that, in that split second, you have things in your life that you are thankful for.  Or maybe you meditate.  Whatever it is, reconnect with it.

You’ll be grateful you did.


50% Complete

Two Step Opt-In

We are excited to have you join our community and receive our monthly newsletter.  Your privacy is important and we will never sell or share your information with others.

Our sign-up process includes one last step, which is to confirm your sign up through an email we will send you momentarily.  Please check your email and spam/junk/quarantine nets and affirm your sign up.

Thanks much and welcome!