Human beings are weird. You know this already, but here’s where we’re going today: The attention of most employees and leaders has an uncanny knack of gravitating towards the darker shades of life, rather than basking in sunlit positivity.
It begins in the classroom. Teachers often find themselves fixated on troublemakers who stir the pot, while diligent, high-achieving students find themselves lurking in the shadows of their attention like unsung heroes.
When it comes to our own performance evaluations, our eyes are a magnet for criticism. We skim through a sea of compliments, only to dive headfirst into the chilly waters of constructive critique.
Even in everyday workplace chatter, it’s the negative buzz that seems to electrify the room.
Why do people become more animated when discussing the latest mishap, scandal or conflict than they do when extolling triumphs? Because they experience a heightened emotional reaction, which is more memorable and feels more salient.
Negative topics can also serve as conversational fodder because they bring people together – creating a sort of toxic unity.
Humans have evolved to pay more attention to negative information because it was crucial for survival in our ancestors’ environments. Potential threats or dangers required immediate attention and action and this tendency persists today, making us more attuned to bad news, criticism or problems.
For instance, in the workplace, negative issues can be perceived as threats to job security, career advancement or overall wellbeing. Employees are more inclined to pay attention to anything that might undermine their interests or stability.
Leaders aren’t immune to this phenomenon. Think about your organisation’s higher-ups. Does any single leader tend to fixate on shortcomings or downplay positives by shining a spotlight on flaws? (Do they know that they do this?)
These tendencies are deeply ingrained in human psychology, but it’s important to be conscious of them; to encourage a balanced perspective that acknowledges both challenges and successes, promotes open communication, and fosters a positive organisational disposition.
Please note: We’re not advocating ignoring reality or being blinded by delusion. But a positive bias can and does light up even the darkest corners.