In “Negativity Bias And YOUR Organization” I wrote about the unfortunate effects of the human bent toward negativity in human organizations.
It was a pretty negative post (of course!) but I promised I would share some hints for countering this pernicious problem. Here’s how I defined negativity bias:
If you’d like to wade into the theology behind negativity bias, start with last week’s post.
Meanwhile, the following are the five examples of how negativity bias effects our organizations, and what leaders can do to mitigate this influence.
(1) Bad news travels faster than good news. How can we counter this?
- Teach people to, as Amy Carmichael demanded on her mission station, “Speak to, not about.” Don’t be afraid to take as much time as necessary to repudiate the sin of gossip. You can actually make it fun by teaching about the excuses we make for our gossip (See The Top Ten Excuses For Our Gossip, Part One and Five More Excuses For Our Gossip) and training groups in the use of The Everlasting Gossip Stopper (The Everlasting Gossip Stopper Can Change Your Church’s Culture), a simple tool for turning gossip into healthy, face to face conversation.
- Work at getting good news into the “rumor mill” of your organization. In a church, the pastor knows almost all the news: bad and good. Bad news flies through the group on its own wings but we can give wings to good news with live testimonies in our services, recorded testimonies on video, praise reports on prayer chains, praise reports and answered prayers communicated to small group leaders, etc.
(2) People are bent toward cynicism and sarcasm toward their leaders. What can we do?
- We can’t simply ban cynicism from our organizations, but we can speak against it clearly enough and often enough so as to make it obvious for what it is. In other words, we can work at driving cynicism out of the culture. In churches, we can carefully teach passages such as I Thessalonians 5:12-14 and Hebrews 13:7 and 17, about giving our leaders the benefit of the doubt. Don’t be afraid to be accused of being self-serving in teaching this material. It’s in everyone’s interest to have a positive, cynicism-free environment in which to worship, fellowship and serve.
- Leaders can work at expelling cynicism and sarcasm from their own hearts, expectations, vocabularies and staff meetings. It’s sad to see how easily a group of leaders can become cynical. Cynical leaders have no right to expect cynicism-free followers.
(3) We tend to “fill in the blanks” left by poor communication with negative possibilities. How can we counter this?
- You knew I would say this but here it is: Communicate, communicate and communicate some more. Over-communicate. You can’t share the announcement through one medium or on one Sunday and expect that it has been received. Only half of “your people” are with you on any given Sunday. Say it for three Sundays, and through multiple other channels.
- Sit down and talk to your “communication critics.” When someone says, “There’s no communication here!” try to find out why that person would make such an extreme statement. There are reasons and you can find them.
- Communicate honestly. Americans are sick of hype and spin and expect it everywhere. Don’t leave people guessing. Why did the staff member leave? Be gracious, but tell the truth. If you’ve failed or messed up, tell everyone. People will start to believe you when you admit you’re not perfect.
(4) We tend to assume there are insidious motives behind studies of controversial subjects. What can we do?
- Explain carefully, with Q and A time for those who are interested, why it’s time to tackle the issue. Tell your followers what it’s like as leaders to have no position, or a “fuzzy” position, on a hot-button issue on which crystal clarity is needed.
- Conduct your study of the issue with as much “openness” as possible. Any methodology that conveys that the process is being conducted by a secretive cabal will result in more negativity.
(5) Faith-filled leaders always have an uphill battle to convince followers that things really can be better. This is the one that I couldn’t wait to be able to write about.
- If your organization is not based on the Bible, positivity is a tough sell. Secular humanism is grounded solidly on thin air; it gives no credible reason for hope in a better future.
- But if your organization is based on the Bible, you have an endless supply of material with which to give hope – joy borrowed from the future. To put it oh-so-briefly, in the worldview of the Bible: Christ followers have a glorious future, the Church completes its work, the Savior returns in glory, the Kingdom of Christ triumphs and sin and sorrow are banished from the universe. God wins, and that, ultimately, is why believers don’t have to be controlled by negativity bias.