Negativity included criticism, not listening to others, and only concentrating on what issues important to oneself, whereas positive interactions meant participants openly appreciated others' ideas, gave feedback and were oriented towards solutions, and not criticism.
Researchers thought there was a specific tipping point when a number of positive interactions produced quality changes in team dynamics, making a team look for out-of-the-box solutions, be more creative and perform better. Although the precise ratio they suggested (1 negative to 3 positive) has been criticized by the scientific community because of the mathematical model used, their discovery is in line with the research on successful marriages, which says that happy spouses experience 5 positive interactions over 1 negative. So it's likely that the "ideal ratio" lies somewhere between these numbers.
How much positivity is healthy though?Again, you will have to find yourself the magic formula that works for your team, but there’s scientific evidence that team performance starts to decrease after a certain level of positive interactions is reached. In other words, be positive, but also stay authentic. Nothing can be perfect all the time, and you need to find constructive ways to express that, too.
Ok - but how do I do it? To make your team flourish, you need to reduce negativity and increase positivity. The following four tools might help:
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This tools allows you to make sure that in team meeting or brainstorming session everyone listens to everyone else. After a participant shares his idea, the next person to speak should say “yes, and…” and link their idea to what has just been said. For example, Participant A says: We should make sure that there's somebody in the office during lunch break to take urgent calls. Participant B might say: Yes, those who go out for lunch can get them a free lunch!
Instead of "Yes, and..." you can also say “What I like about this idea is…” and express whatever you like about what was just said, and add your idea on top. For example, Participant C could say about B's idea: What I like about this idea is that it creates a sense of community and taking care of each other. We could also do the same by organizing buddying experience, so that each team member gets their own buddy from the team for a month.
2. What have we learned to reformulate negative as positive
Allow mistakes to happen and be discussed, but make sure that you don’t spend time on dwelling on how bad things are, but concentrate on what you and your team can do different next time. The following questions might help (you may want to ask them aloud or build the discussion around it):
Is there anything to appreciate about this situation?
Is there any learning for everyone in what happened?
What can we do next time to make sure it doesn’t happen?
3. Reducing negativity: don’t allow these team toxins to spread
There are four major toxic behaviours that are poisonous to any team – blame, defensiveness, withdrawal/stonewalling and contempt (that includes sarcasm and irony). These are extremely contagious and the moment they show up, you need to act fast if you don't want the disease to spread.
The first thing you need to do to fight them is to simply name them: “Bill, it sounds like you are blaming X for Y”.
Second, explain why this type of behaviour might be dangerous and how it can impact the team performance. Do not blame the person - they might not know what their impact is!
Third, suggest alternative ways to express the same idea and be really patient – many people are not used to expressing their needs and ideas in a positive way, so help them do that! Say: I hear you are unhappy with what your colleague did. What you could you ask them to do in the future to avoid such situations?
Last but not least, make sure that everyone holds themselves responsible for sticking to the rules and notices toxic behaviours not only in others, but in themselves, too.
4. Creating a consistent result: no talking behind one's back!
This is absolutely crucial - if you want your team to stay positive (and therefore productive), you should not allow any negative talks behind people's backs. Lead by example: tell your people that you would not discuss anything about a third person that you would not be able to repeat in front of them.
This is the most important thing you can do to make sure your team is consistently positive, because when people interact behind one's back, they create a subgroup within a given group, so even if you make an effort to change the dynamics of a large group, the smaller ones will sabotage it over and over again without you being able to control that. So no discussions or complaints behind the backs if they cannot be repeated in public.
Stay positive and find your balance!
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