Have you ever noticed that when you receive a compliment or positive feedback at work, you’re unstoppable? You’re powering through meetings, checking things off your to-do list, handing out high fives.
But when you’re dealt a negative comment, it’s all you can focus on. Forget about tackling that deadline or responding to emails. You’d rather spend time ruminating on that one, painful comment.
There’s a reason for this, and you can blame the brain.
To the brain, negative comments or situations – you’re called out in a meeting or a difficult deadline is unexpectedly thrown at you – are perceived as threats, which can induce a survival response, as well as a physiological reaction.
This impacts our cognitive ability not just in the moment but sometimes for hours afterwards. We may get the shakes, mentally go blank or lose our train of thought. Talk about lost productivity.
Of course, the opposite is true when we receive positive feedback or spend our time working with an amazing team doing work we love. Such experiences make us feel safe, valued and engaged, making it much easier to get work done. If only we could feel like that all the time!
Here’s the catch: One of the reasons that we don’t always feel that way is that our brain has five times the brain circuitry dedicated to picking up and processing negative information than we do for processing positive. That’s why one piece of negative feedback is what we focus on, even if we’ve received a long list of positive feedback. Threats are so much easier and faster to pick up and remember.
While it’s unlikely we can stop the negative feedback or difficult situations, we can work to putting the brakes on how our negative thoughts affect us. Simply being aware of the emotion and naming it is an excellent start, allowing us to think clearly, continue our work – and perhaps once again focus on the positive.
Noesis delivers neuroleadership consulting and training to organizations handling everyday change and major transformation initiatives. We help our clients scientifically improve leadership.