Accentuate the Negative

By Lain Ehmann

Resiliency doesn’t just help you bounce back from failure, this valuable trait also can help meetings go more smoothly and productively, says Al Siebert, Ph.D., author of The Resiliency Advantage (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2005). One key facet of a resilient person is the ability to make the best of any situation, including dealing with the infamous devil’s advocate every meeting seems to spawn. Negative specialists can be irritating, says Siebert, but resilient managers and meeting leaders learn to use these personalities for the benefit of the group. Here are his suggestions.

1. Set a good example. If the manager’s a good role model, other participants will be more likely to follow suit, says Siebert. Instead of trying to get rid of nay saying, learn to use it for the greater good.

2. Recognize the value of so-called negativity. Both positive and negative feedback is needed for groups to make good decisions, says Siebert. Studies show that decisions made with only positive thinking often are poor. “People make really dumb mistakes because they don’t plan well for all the difficulties they might encounter,” Siebert explains.

3. Assign the role. Salespeople tend to be positive, optimistic types who don’t naturally look at the downside of a given situation. To make sure you counterbalance your optimism, Siebert suggests assigning the voice of caution to an individual in the group. “Make it that person’s job to purposely point out what could go wrong,” says Siebert.

4. Rotate the assignment. “If it’s always the same person, it becomes about that person instead of about what he or she is saying,” Siebert says. When this happens other participants tend to dismiss what the person is saying instead of giving the information its due, so ask different people to assume the role of caution.

5. Ask for help. If there’s one person who always plays the part of the naysayer in group discussions, approach him or her beforehand and ask for assistance. Siebert recommends saying something such as: Your critical thinking skills are excellent and I’d like the other members of the team to develop their skills as well. Can you help me by leaving them room to think along those lines? This approach shows that the individual’s behavior and role is valid and it aligns the negativity specialist to your purpose. “Make that person a group resource,” says Siebert.

A characteristic of emotional intelligence is learning to take and use the bad with the good. Siebert says the most successful businesspeople are those who balance their natural optimism with thinking about possible obstacles and problems.

For more information, including a free quiz to determine how resilient you are, please click on