Why small business owners should focus on the good and not the bad

You’ve just delivered a project on time and under budget, but for some reason, that voice turns up and starts a story that sticks hard and diminishes all the good.

“Oh yeah, but I could have finished this a week earlier.”

Here’s a few more lines that I’m sure you can relate to:

  • “Oh yeah, but we didn’t hit our stretch target.”
  • “Oh yeah, we’re winning great new medium-sized profitable clients but we’re still not getting the big fish.”
  • “Oh yeah, but if I studied harder, I would have got 99 per cent rather than 98 per cent.”
  • “Oh yeah, but I wanted to lose 20kgs not 19.5kgs – I shouldn’t have eaten that piece of cake on my birthday.”

Bad news has a way of sticking, even in times when it has been well overshadowed by the good that has been achieved. Humans are hardwired for survival and fear loss much more than we value gain, therefore, are always alert to the danger around us.

Small-business owners are some of the biggest self-critics (I know this because I am one). Why don’t small-business operators do what I call” “focus on the green and not always the red” in order to balance the stickiness of bad news with the acceptance and acknowledgment that many good things are happening?

Here are my five tips to start focusing on the green in your small business:

  1. Get out of the bad news filing cabinet in your head – Humans have between 12,500 and 60,000 new and recurring thoughts per day, and according to the National Science Foundation, 80 per cent of those thoughts are negative. So we’re over accessing the eight-drawer filing cabinet everyday. Before you go there, catch yourself and ask, “why” or “why not”. Even though it’s only two-drawers, have a look in the good news filing cabinet as well.
  2. Get some perspective (did anyone die?) – Unless you’re in the operating table, on the battlefield or in a high risk to life industry, the answer will be no. Much of what we do in the workplace is not life and death but we frame it as that by overthinking. Step back before you get all wound up and ask yourself that question. More importantly when others are freaking out, ask them the question, “Did anyone die?”
  3. Don’t participate in the drama – Many people thrive on the drama of bad news. Have you watched the nightly news lately? It’s all drama, doom and gloom until they give us a feelgood story of a squirrel on a set of water skis. Don’t get sucked into the drama; short circuit it by starting a conversation about what’s working really well.
  4. Focus on strengths – According to Gallup, if we focus on strengths in performance-related conversations, there can be an up to 24 per cent increase in productivity. Acknowledge the good “green” in others and they will do more of it as we humans like to be praised. Stop the craziness of capturing things not being done well, sharing these and then saying, “Keep up the good work”. It’s confusing and demotivating.
  5. Set up a weekly “what am i proud of” check-in – At the end of each week, it’s a great time to write some more copy for your good news filing cabinet. Five minutes of reflection and one story each week will give you 52 more sheets of paper for the positive filing cabinet. It will also give you a confidence and self-esteem kicker.

Before you go down the “yeah, but…” path and pick up another sticky bad news story, how about stopping in the moment and thinking about the good news that seems to slip away without a thought? Both you and your business will thank you for it.

Author: Mark LeBusque. Mark is Harvard Business School trained and an accredited Practitioner in Adaptive Leadership and Instincts at Work. He is universally known as the Human Manager and his proven techniques for elevating leaders and energizing employees make him an internationally sought after speaker, facilitator, mentor and coach. 

This article was first published on Inside Small Business.