September 8, 2009

What can you be really negative about?

As you know this site is dedicated to the solution-focused approach, an approach which focuses on positively formulated goals, analyzing earlier successes, being constructive etcetera. In the spirit of this theme, most of the items you will find here are constructively phrased, and the tone of discussion is kept respectful. Yet, we cannot be positive all the time and there are good reasons to believe that this would not even be healthy. For instance, John Gottman researched positive/negative ratios in communication and found that 5:1 was most likely to lead to productivity and continuation of relationships. This implies that sometimes there is room for negativity. This is also what Barbara Fredrickson and Marcial Losada found in their research on the positivity tipping point. They found that flourishing begins when positive experiences happen thrice as much as negative ones but ends when they outnumber them by eleven times or more. So, negativity is not all bad. So, with slight hesitation, as an experiment and by exception, my question of today has a negative focus:
What can you be really negative about? (and why?)


  1. I don't think we should be negative about anything.
    I think that is not the negative that is needed but the failure.
    We need to fail but we don't need to fail on purpose. We need to open ourselves to failure not necessarily walk blindingly into troubles.

    As someone said... if you find yourself being comfortable for too long, you're doing something wrong... you're not growing.

    So, basically if the ratio of good events to bad events is too high, one should try to exceed his limits and in doing so, will fail for sure at least in the beginning. Then set an even higher goal and fail again.

  2. Hi Peter, Sounds wise. I think I agree. Maybe we should explicitly distinguish negative experiences (including failure) from expressing yourself in a negative way (complaining etc). What do you think can it be healthy to sometimes deliberately complain about something?

  3. I'm complaining a lot but I see it as a shortcoming. I see it as a flaw. It undermines me in my own eyes and that's bad, very bad.

    Complaining has an implicit message of the solution of the problem outside ourselves. This means that we give up control where we should seize it!

    Adversity should be approach with an attitude of "I can get though this, I can do it!"; "The problems are here to reveal the toughness of the material I'm made of!"

    Problems should be approached with an attitude of solution seeking that emphasizes the autoefficacy of the person. Complaining reduces the autoefficacy or at least this is how I view it.

  4. Hi Peter, maybe something to consider: in solution-focused coaching it often works well to be just as mild for yourself as for your clients. with clients we often have understanding for their complaints (when you see no way of solving your problem complaining is not so unlogical). we might be equally mild for ourselves

  5. What do you mean by negativity, exactly?

    I think that if by negativity you mean complaining or whining... then I agree with Peter.
    However, if you mean negative feedback and reinforcement, then I think there is a very legitimate place for it. If you need to maintain some standards in the workplace or in a community, negative reinforcement can be a very useful tool However, to build and expand on these standards we need to build on the positive.

    For example: police is useful to enforce the law, to maintain a reasonable level of safety for community members. But you need a whole different set of organizations to make a community flourish (churches, social organizations, neighborhoods...)

  6. Hi Paolo, thanks. oh gosh, i should have guessed the readers of this blog would have answered in such a way.

    When I wrote the post, I thought about how irritated I can get when I being put on hold for way too long by a call center employee only to find out they cannot help me when I finally get them on the line. I hate that.

  7. Hi Coert,

    You should know that the hate is generated in you by you... not by the call center.

    As Seneca put it... you should be more pessimistic about the outcome of your call so that you wouldn't be so disappointed when it fails.

    Here is the entire segment


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