Is there an incentive to be friendly? For many people, there are actually more incentives to be negative.
Recently, we were working with a client who was trying to improve their customer service. Yet despite training, continual prompting and incentives, several team members were reluctant to be positive. In fact, one person said, “Our clients come in here in a bad mood; they’ll think I’m weird if I act all sunny.”
That single comment reveals two beliefs that make it challenging for some to be positive. Here’s why:
- Negative bonding
Humans love to complain to each other.It helps us feel less alone.Think about what happens when a family member or friend is going through a tough time; they call up someone who will listen to their tale of woe. Unfortunately, negative bonding is the default for many groups.
In some families complaining is the only way to get attention.When one person says, I had a bad day; the other person has to top it. “You think you had a tough day, I had to do three TPS reports!” The same thing happens at work and social settings. “Your child didn’t sleep through the night until 6 months? Mine was a full year old before she went over six hours.”It’s a race to the bottom, the worst situation wins.
In Bitching is Bonding, A Guide To Mutual Complaint, Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at the NYU Langone School of Medicine says, “the reason these conversations feel good is because we feel understood.”
People raised in negative environments learn early on, being positive gets you thrown out of the club.When family dinner is a complaint fest, you’re not going to risk alienation saying, “Wow, I had an awesome day, don’t you just love life?”
Translate this into a work setting, people, often unconsciously, believe being positive keeps you out of the cool club. When negativity provides bonding, humans are reluctant to abandon the behavior that brings them comfort.
- External locus of control
Someone with an external locus of control believes events happen outside them, and they have little control.Those with an internal locus of control believe they have the power to influence events. In the case of our client, they’re a wholesaler of industrial supplies.Many of their customers are contractors who come in frustrated and angry with their customers.
When you apply an external vs. internal locus of control mindset to being positive in the face of a negative situation, you reach two entirely different conclusions.Someone with an external locus of control will likely believe smiling and positively engaging negative customers is futile; it’s hard work with no reward because the environment will stay negative.
Someone with an internal locus of control will see it as an opportunity to change the environment.They’re more likely to believe that improving their attitude will affect the response they get from customers, which will in turn improve their own work conditions.
If you want to create a more positive environment, at work or home, take a hard look at the underlying beliefs. Can you bond with compliments as easily as you do with complaints? Do you have the power to influence others, or are you merely at the mercy of their moods?
Logic tells us being positive makes all the sense in the world. Yet as we all know, when it comes to humans, logic isn’t always our first choice.