What do we do with negativity?

It's been my experience that groups who skillfully respond to negativity tend to not get bogged down by it and in many ways can even benefit from it as a gift to be engaged rather than a problem to be fixed. In any group's experience, negativity can manifest in many forms:

  • Judgment, criticism, resistance, complaints
  • Frustration, blame, refusal
  • Defensiveness, rigidity, inflexibility, cynicism

People can become negative situationally or chronically for any of many reasons:

  • It often works for them, influencing others who they label as problems to be fixed
  • It sustains bonds with other people whose bias is negativity
  • It reflects accurately the victimhood and external locus of control central to their narrative
  • It's the only way they know how to be engaged with a group
  • It effectively prevents them from the risks of actually taking action

As legitimate as negativity can be, it constrains the potential of any group

  • It kills the emergence and growth of new ideas
  • It postpones possible action
  • It makes the group more learning disabled
  • It sustains the old conversations that have no power to inspire and engage positive change

In the practice of the Agile Canvas, we have three things to do with negativity when it comes up:

  • We validate the truth of any negative expression
  • We make sure any facts, questions and principles embedded in the negativity gets posted
  • We quickly invite people to volunteer any stories and contributions to sprints they can

This makes people feel included, respected and engaged. Many people are less negative when they feel these.