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Is Being Negative Always Negative?

Cover of "Six Thinking Hats"Cover of Six Thinking Hats

Ever heard of Six Thinking Hats? I used to teach a workshop, based on Dr. Edward de Bono's groundbreaking work on effective thinking, processing and decision making. This program used the concept of six different colored hats to represent six different ways to think about -- and work through -- an important and controversial problem.

Why do I bring this up? There's so much out there these days about PMA -- "Positive Mental Attitude." You'd think it was at least a misdemeanor to think a negative thought. In Jon Gordon's current best-selling business fable, The Energy Bus, one of the strategies he suggests is:

"Engage and energize your employees on a daily basis, filling the void with positive energy so negativity can't breed."

Don't get me wrong. I don't believe in breeding negativity. I'm all for the power of being positive and seeing the glass as half-full. But...uhhh...what about the other half of the glass? If it's half full, it's also half empty. The problem with focusing on the positive is that it often leads us to ignore the negative -- which makes tough problems even tougher to solve.

So, back to the Six Thinking Hats approach. In the workshop, we'd always look at a problem from a "yellow hat perspective" of benefits and optimism and possibilities. Then, without fail, we'd set aside our yellow hats and put on our black hats and look for all of the cautions and concerns and potential road mines inherent in the same problem.

Only by acknowledging all of the negatives could we turn them into positives. We gave positives and negatives equal billing, challenging ourselves to think of every possible one, in turn -- yellow first, then black -- before moving on to decide what to do about them. We accentuated the positives, without short shrifting the possible threats and negative situations.

What do you think? Is there a time and place, and a necessity, for bringing the negative into the workplace?

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