Editor’s note: Today we peek inside an email exchange between Michelle and a reader as they strategize about how to overcome negative perception of one’s communication style.
Reader: Michelle, help. I tend to see things in black and white with very little gray area. This is often viewed as a negative. I feel like I’m beginning to get a negative reputation. My intention isn’t to only point out the bad, but I see details that could be improved. So, what I’m asking, and maybe it’s a Coach’s Corner question: Can seeing the negative be a positive? How can I avoid being seen as only negative by my co-workers?
Michelle: This would make an excellent question for Coach’s Corner since many people, especially highly analytical personalities, struggle with the challenge of seeing and pointing out the negative while seemingly overlooking the positive. Can you help me understand why you say “I’m beginning to get a negative reputation”?
Reader: People see me as more negative than positive more often than not. I’ve had people hint about it, so I asked a few who confirmed it. Obviously, this is not a desired perception. I need to be more vocal on the positives. I see them. I know they are there. But I need to share them just as much, if not more, than areas of improvement. Especially if I want to change the idea that I’m the angry, negative one on the team.
Michelle: OK. We’re getting somewhere here, and self-awareness is key. Give me an example of a time recently when you may have come across like a rain cloud when you could have shined some sun. With hindsight always closer to 20-20, can you come up with alternative behaviors you could have demonstrated?
Reader: I received an email with a job description for a position we’re seeking to hire. I was asked for my thoughts. The job title was misleading but the rest of the description looked great. Instead of giving praise in the email, I asked for the job title change for clarity. I could have pointed out a positive or layered a compliment sandwich. Instead, I responded quickly and concisely.
Michelle: I’m not a fan of “compliment sandwiches”, or putting a needed criticism between two pieces of praise. People quickly see through that. It’s too formulaic. They suspect (true or not) that your main message is the part that’s negative. Instead of only giving constructive criticism, seek to notice what’s right: the small wins, things others do well (even better than you!) and share your observations. When you catch yourself laser-focused on negative details, challenge yourself to see what’s good in the situation. You may need to look at it more broadly. This is excellent for your relationships and your long-term mental and physical health as well.
You’re tuning in to opportunities to re-shape your reputation, an important step after awareness of what you want to change. You are on course for rewiring your thinking and actions to be a more positive contributor. In the long run, you are the person who benefits most. Try it for a while, then let the team know you’ve been working on it. Thank them for their patience, and ask if they see any changes in you. That type of humility is attractive and inspiring, and all too rare.
Are you dealing with a career or communication challenge?