I was at a morning tea event the other day – a quasi networking event which I wasn’t keen to attend as I was busy, however I went along to be polite. I was nailed to the wall by an older man who had run an engineering business for 35 years and was pontificating about the current times, HR, KPI’s, the younger generation and how awful everything was, all the while speaking with his mouth full of chocolate cake. Finally he said ‘what do you do’? I gave him the BBQ statement and he stopped chewing his cake and said ‘ that won’t work’. He then went into another tirade about how HR and KPI’s have made sure managers don’t take responsibility and blah blah blah. Needless to say I escaped and went back to the office.
I was struck by ‘cake man’s’ vehemence in his pontification about the problem – it was like a tsunami of negativity that was barrelling at me. I am not sure about you, but negativity exhausts me, I find it draining and tend to avoid it as much as possible. Negativity is a side effect of modern life due to the brain changes that have occurred as a result of technology grossly speeding up the rate of information transfer which I have referred to often in my posts.
As I surround myself with positive people who are forward thinking and solution focused – when I come across such negativity it feels really unpleasant, and I was a bit stunned to be honest. In fact most of our clients gravitate towards us because they are attempting to ‘work through negativity’ from people within their own businesses who ‘block people productivity progress’ in exactly the same way that ‘cake man’ did – “that won’t work”. They too express exhaustion with the ‘can’t, can’t can’t…..responses to their attempts to progress people productivity in their own organisations.
The good news is that this negativity can be overcome and resolved. The brain discovery I made some time ago is the precursor to this over-abundance of negativity. It is simply the ‘reaction’ from the brain to too much going on (overload), too much to process and too many decisions to make (daily working life for most). Simply put the brain processing area (where everything we do, say, think and feel is filtered) is like a switch – either ON of OFF. This part of the brain is not at all complicated and is like the language of computers (1 or 0) ‘on or off’ and all other processes upstream from the ‘1’ or ‘0’ will have the associated attributes of the ‘1’ or ‘0’.
The attributes of the ‘1’ are associated overload and the brain paying attention to a potential threat, we are hardly going to be jumping for joy with a ‘lion viewing us as lunch’ – so the emotions will be negative and the resulting thinking and actions will be negative as well. The attributes of the ‘0’ on the other hand is where creativity, potential, productivity, contentment, sense of purpose and satisfaction with achievement all reside. This is the state we all desire, crave and spend most of our time ‘trying’ to get to this state.
Whilst this solution to overcoming negativity is simple on the surface – in reality it is extremely difficult – if it wasn’t we would all be contented and ‘cake man’ would be a rarity. Unfortunately ‘cake man’ is not a rarity and people like him seem to have the loudest voices and get the most attention. Once again there are brain based reasons for this. There are two very significant further consequences of brain ‘overload’ due to people trying to process to much ‘stuff’.
The first is that information or brain processing overload due to too much ‘stuff’ has caused the brain to become ‘habituated’ to having to constantly check for incoming threats (too much stuff to process). This is interpreted by the brain as being in “dinner plate for the lion” mode most of the time, particularly at work which means negative emotions. This is an unconscious process and as such we have no idea that our brain is in this state and that we are interpreting things that are in no way ‘a threat’ in a negative way. This habituation has also shut down the reasoning, creative, problem solving part of our brain. Have you ever been in a situation where you have reacted to something and it has not worked out so well – then when you are a relaxed state later looked back and thought ‘that was a bit nuts’? This is because in the relaxed ‘brain state’ you are ‘seeing the situation’ in a completely different light. We don’t like being in this state and the other insidious thing is that we all know that our thinking, behaviours and beliefs are a bit mad and reactionary when ‘under the pump’. We don’t want to acknowledge this and yet ironically, this fuels another phenomenon.
This brings me to the second consequence of brain overload that is driving increased negativity – ‘emotional contagion’. Emotional contagion means people adopting the group emotions, sentiments and beliefs – stock market crashes or herd behaviour by way of example. The main driver for this, particularly with regards to work, is a powerful desire to ‘be right’. No one wants to be an outlier in our politically correct problem focused world, don’t stick your neck out, toe the party line. This is the way things are, we all believe it and so should you. ‘Cake man’ was telling me he was right and that I would fail because I was wrong as our ideas are incongruent or not a match to his and the group.
This phenomena of negative emotional contagion has gone through the roof over the past decade or so. Social media has been a vehicle for this – but it has not been the cause. The media does not tell people how to think and feel – they do that themselves. However the media ‘tells people what to think about’ and the abundance of negativity means there is more often than not a negative take or lens view. Then social chit-chat and the contagion effect of ‘group mentality’ takes over, and we have what we know as the status quo.
Cake man and his views was a prime example of how the brain has reacted to overload. The interesting thing is that ‘cake man’ acknowledged there were problems and was very verbose and clear about the extent of the problems – yet could not entertain an alternate view on solving the problems. In the words on Einstein – insanity. I will discuss cake-man’s views on HR and KPI’s next time – that was really interesting. I could dismiss cake man as a nutter – but he isn’t, he is a member of a large cohort who think like he does – they are not nuts – just overloaded.