The Grass is Greener Where You Water It

John Watters, Executive Officer – AusSIP

Australians have long-held the belief that the grass is often greener on the other side. This viewpoint is often unfounded, but rather based upon an almost human nature of curiosity and discovery. Additionally, such a perspective reinforces a negative bias.

Negative bias is a default human perspective that can be traced back to when survival was a daily struggle against numerous elements. Curiosity often resulted in injury or even death. Today, this bias continues where we almost naturally focus on what needs to be improved, ignoring the positive. If a speaker was to walk on stage after lunch and have a small stain on their shirt, the audience would almost be drawn to the area covering perhaps two percent of the total shirt; the ninety-eight percent would be ignored. When we clean a car, there is always an observer who notices a small section that could be cleaner, often remarking ‘missed a spot’.

Negative bias has served us well as humans. We have learned from experience, retold stories of challenge and struggle and protected our young from harm. At the same time, we still yearn for challenge and maintain a sense of wonder and awe. The challenge is to look for opportunities acknowledging that we are standing on a solid foundation of strengths.

If we start to shift to a growth or positive mindset, then we can start to alter direction, future and outcome. A positive mindset focuses, builds and leverages from strengths to improve areas of need. In doing so, the nature of interactions and relationships is positive-focused. For instance, commenting on how a staff member has improved their performance at work and suggesting how to amplify their productivity even further, is a far more effective strategy than focusing on someone’s areas of weakness.

The concept of a positive mindset is not necessarily new or ground-breaking; the application is. ‘Sandwich effects’ have long been practised as part of ongoing feedback mechanisms, where primacy and recency theories come into play. If you have ever wanted to gain favour from someone or get your own way, you probably have focused on all the great things someone has been achieving of late or altered behavior, before swooping in to ask for what you really want. How often have your children suddenly decided to help you around the house without being asked to, only soon afterwards to be asked if they can do something or have some financial support?

The difference between ‘crawling up’ and being sincere about positivity is sincerity and appropriateness. Being positive is not ‘happyism’. Indicating that everything is great all the time is unrealistic and unauthentic. Serious conversations need to be had and people generally like to know where they stand on particular issues. However, making negativity the basis or central issue from which everything is premised, is unlikely to achieve the desired outcome.

Young people in the workplace often need a mind-shift by supervisors and managers. Inexperienced workers are by default more likely to make additional mistakes than an experienced worker. Many employers have begun to adopt the concept of ‘three strikes and your in’. This is based on the idea of identifying and telling a young worker three things they have done right before focusing on a weakness. This approach reinforces better behavior and supports growth of the person and business.

The grass is often greener where you water it rather than the other side. If we focus more attention on strengths, there is the ability to amplify and aggregate these to the point where the weaknesses are drowned out and people are more wiling to address them. Evidence has already suggested that aspirational company statements that focus on forward thinking and macro values increase performance. Many company policies and procedures focus on minimum standards, utilising language such as ‘must’, ‘will’ and ‘compulsory’. The basis for behavior is now often premised on bare minimums and demonstrated in work environments where operations and management revolve around prescriptive terms and
conditions.

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