No Room for Negaholics

My friend, Brian Cain, used a word in a recent blog I hadn’t before.  He talked about Negaholics –  those people you can count on to see what’s wrong or what won’t work.  What a great word and great images it conjures up!   We all know those people. It’s the ones who default to the “glass half empty” view of life.  The “it’s never good enough” crowd. It’s the people who believe that everything is a problem to be fixed. Negaholics.Good and bad Bot

Now that they have been identified, let’s talk about the energy we get from them.  Here’s a clue – negative emotions are more powerful than positive ones.  It’s the inbred human need to survive.  We are hardwired to be on the lookout for threats.  So it’s important to recognize the impact of a Negaholic.  If I’m negative, what energy does that invite from you?

Positive psychology teaches us that a good organization is infused with positive interactions.  To be a good, productive team, the ratio of positive to negative interactions is about 5 to 1 (5 positive interactions for every 1 negative one).  By the way, positive interactions are easy – especially when they become default behavior. For example, if someone walks in the room and the leader looks up and smiles, that’s a positive interaction. Now, if the person walks in the room and the leader doesn’t even look up, that counts as a negative. Yep, that simple.  So being positive is easy – it’s about being intentional and human.

Here’s where it gets even more interesting.  If a good climate has 5 to 1 positive to negative, it’s important to know that great organizations have a positive ratio of 8 to 1. That means more celebration and less correction.  (BTW.  Don’t read anything that is not here – I didn’t say NO corrections.  I said “less” correction).  The message here is to have more positive interactions than negative ones – at a ration of 8 to 1 for a high performance team.   It takes awareness and intention, but the payoff is real.

The bottom line:  the leader holds the key to a team’s greatness.  There isn’t room for Negaholics

Don’t Let It Get To You

It could be the play that you’ve run a dozen times in practice that falls apart during a game.  It could be the referee who seems to favor the other team of the kid who knows better but still takes a cheap shot on the field or says something out of line.  And all of a sudden, you are ready to explode.

That’s when you battle to NOT do or say something that will get you thrown out of the game.  And you haven’t even gotten to the interviews after it’s over!blog anger

What’s happened to you is a full-blown amygdala hijack.  That’s when the emotional control center of the brain unleashes a chemical response to tension or threat.  In an effort to keep you safe from perceived danger, the amygdala floods your body with cortisol.  When that happens, your field of vision narrows, your ability to think clearly is impaired, you have a knot in your gut, and your mouth can have a hair-trigger.  Anger floods your consciousness and self-management is at an all time low.

Oh great, exactly what you don’t need.  So, what can you do?

Actually, it’s simple – as soon as you feel the symptoms of anger or frustration begin, take a deep breath.   That’s it.  Breathe deeply.  The anecdote to the chemical flood is to re-oxygenate your brain and engage the logical part of your brain.  That allows you to override what’s happening with your emotions.  Yes, you can. It is simple but not necessarily easy.  Emotional self-control takes practice.  Over time you can choose it over an emotional meltdown.  And the control you model to your team becomes a skill you teach them.  That’s when emotional control becomes a competitive advantage.

Don’t let emotions get to you. In fact, make them work to your advantage!


Photo credit: Thanks to Disney Movies for this personification of ANGER from their delightful movie,  Inside Out

The Art of the Question

If you want your students to understand and learn from their mistakes, ask the type of question that encourages learning.  The words you choose can make all the difference.  Here are some good ones to know –question-mark-460869_640

The word “what” opens up the conversation for curiosity and discovery, as in “What’s the value?”  Or  “What are your options?”  It invites a person to discover answers on his own.

“How” asks by what means will something get done?  There is not a lot of discovery in “how” – it’s about fixing, solving or doing.  A good rule of thumb is to ask “what”, allow time for discovery and then ask “how.”

“Why” is a cautionary word.  It looks to the past (“Why did you try that?” or “Why did that happen?”) and gathers historical data.  It’s cautionary because it gathers facts but in an accusatory way.  “Why” has that effect in more than one language!  The other caution is that the question “why” seems to be very popular.  It will pay you to be aware of how often you use it!

One other group of questioning words to be aware of would be the “closed questions” words like “did, do, does, would, should and could.”  You can almost here the negative energy when you read the list.  These words only offer two choices – yes or no.  No discovery.  No creativity.

You are in the business of asking questions.  It’s important to recognize that with the single word, you can tailor a helpful question of personal discovery or a judgmental question full of blame.  Your player gets to move forward or get stuck in the past – that’s the choice. It’s the art of the question

Where do you begin?  First, listen to the questions you ask.  Then ask with intention. How you ask a question is as important the content.  Give it a shot.

Questions are NOT Created Equal


I teach coaches to ask great questions of their student athletes.  It allows the players to grow into world-class athletes and mature adults.  The first lesson is that not all questions are created equal.   The meaning of questions can be found in 3 places: in the words, the intent of the question, and tone.  Imagine with me – your athlete (or employee) comes off the field, court, or out of a meeting having just made a mistake.  There is a big difference between, “Did you see what you just did?” And “what did you notice?”

It’s not much of a stretch to hear disappointment – maybe anger – in the first question. Depending on the coach’s tone, it could feel pretty threatening.  Now, on top of dealing with his mistake, the player now feels attacked by the coach – the person who is supposed to be on his side.  It creates what is called in emotional intelligence, an “amygdala hijack.”  That’s when a question is perceived as an attack and the body is triggered in to a full ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response.

When that happens, the logic part of the brain gives way to the brain’s emotional control center.  Thinking is impaired. What that means is that at the very time you want a kid to listen to you and remember what they’ve been taught, they are paralyzed by stress.  My guess is the “did you see what you just did?” question is intended to help and in fact, quite often has the opposite affect.

Let’s replace the stress-inducing question with a different one – “What did you notice?” If you read it out loud, you’ll feel its simplicity and power.  It is open-ended, short enough that there aren’t any embedded assumptions, and it’s curious. Asking, “what do you notice” is like standing shoulder to shoulder with your athlete to look at their performance and help them discover what there is to learn.  No amygdala hijack, no accusations, just the opportunity for them to uncover what was going on so you can get on with the job of teaching and developing them.