Ways to encourage positive thinking in your team. As we grapple with the fallout from the corona virus pandemic one question comes up again and again
‘How can I encourage positive thinking in my team when everyone is so stretched?’
There are no easy answers.
Plenty of people have written about learning to manage your stress response, the benefits of mindfulness and the need for psychological safety. Yes, these things are important, but they only take us so far.
What if you are following that advice and still feeling stuck?
The current environment makes so many demands it’s easy to lose sight of the progress we have made. Many of us get to the end of the week (or the shift) and wonder why do I bother?
It’s almost as if you’ve got one foot on the accelerator and the other on the brake!
When I say this to clients, it brings smiles of recognition. How can we do this? It’s ridiculous! When we learn to drive a car – it’s practically the first thing they teach us.
Yet when it comes to leading change and transformation initiatives, or just doing your job, you get introduced to all kinds of clever frameworks and tools. I bet no-one mentioned the possibility of you undermining yourself by having one foot on the accelerator whilst the other is on the brake!
In my consulting and coaching work clients frequently want to know how to keep their foot off the brake. It often comes down to our choice of words and questions.
In this article I offer practical ways to encourage positive thinking in your team. They apply whether you are working with individuals or groups, in formal or informal settings. I explore:
- Do your Questions Keep People Stuck?
- Spontaneous Meetings, Emails and Conversations
- The Myth of the Neutral Question
- Amplify Positive Shifts
Ways to encourage positive thinking in your team
Do Your Questions Keep People Stuck?
I first discovered the power of words and questions shortly after news of the Boxing Day tsunami smashed onto my TV screen in 2004.
Four months later I met Jasmine who told me she’d been in caught up in the tsunami in Thailand and had miraculously survived. She explained that once back home she got two different kinds of phone calls.
Some would start “How dreadful – what was it like?”
The others “How dreadful – how did you get through it?”
On the face of it, two similar questions yet their impact could not be more different.
“What was it like?” invited her to revisit the events in Thailand, would leave her feeling helpless and sometimes a bit panicky as she re-experienced the horror of the day.
The second question, had a completely different impact. It gave her a sense of resourcefulness and confirmed she had the ability to find her way through challenging situations.
I am telling you this story to prompt you to think about how you use words and the questions you ask. Next time you are on the phone, a video call or even composing an email. Stop and ask yourself:
Am I about to put my foot on the brake and disempower those I want to motivate?
How can I rephrase this to provoke a can-do attitude?
We’re all familiar with the idea of planning what we’ll say in formal settings – the set piece presentations, and important client or stakeholder meetings, team and town hall meetings. In planning these events many of us know to consider the outcomes we want and will go as far as preparing the questions to ask to encourage engagement.
What about the myriad of unplanned meetings and conversations that take place every day – in person, on screen and by email?
Spontaneous Meetings, Emails and Conversations
It goes without saying, you can’t plan for these in the same way. But you need to be aware of the pitfalls. Why? Because what we say and do in informal settings has as much, if not more, impact on those we want to influence.
We’ve already established that some questions keep people stuck, whilst others create a sense of possibility. Here’s another thought – there’s no such thing as a neutral question!
Many of my clients know that asking questions is a great way to motivate and increase engagement.
They have also been told to avoid leading questions – especially if they want honest feedback about products, services, performance or even behaviours. So whether working with staff, customers or other stakeholders they will ask something like “What do you think?”
They are often disappointed in the response – typically it’s non-committal, a teenage grunt, or a list of reasons why it won’t work (Why else would so many workshop facilitators encourage you to “say 3 positive things before a negative?”)
We can be cleverer than that!
The Myth of the Neutral Question
If neutral questions yield unhelpful answers – they are not neutral at all. The idea of a neutral question is a myth!
Far better ask two questions in succession.
Make sure the upside gets heard – always start with a question to bring out the positive.
What do you like about it?
What are the advantages of..?
How might this be useful?
Follow it with a question to provide balance and surface the stuff that would come out anyway.
What are your one or two top concerns?
What are you not so sure of?
Notice how these questions don’t try to suppress the negatives. They aim to focus and contain them. You don’t want to create and amplify a sense of helplessness. You are after balanced feedback and scope to build on the positive.
As you learn to avoid the neutral question trap, you’ll become more adept at focusing concerns and objections. Meetings and conversations will become more positive, constructive and focused. The next step is to keep your foot on the accelerator and amplify your gains.
Amplify the Positive Thinking
Accelerating the shift towards more positive thinking requires perseverance, especially in the current climate. The seven tips below will help.
- Seed a different type of conversation. One which creates the possibility of seeing the situation as fluid and moving in the desired direction. I find it helpful to think in terms of dropping stones into a still pond to create ripples. Some ripples are going to merge and build bigger ripples. In these conversations, each shift that gets mentioned sends out a ripple. We can’t be sure which are going to coalesce. Those that do will amplify the sense of progress.
- Don’t assume big achievements are the only ones that count!
- Look for small shifts (the almost imperceptible ones) in the way people think and behave
- Be explicit, speak to others about the shifts you have noticed “I’m really pleased with the way …has shifted” (N.B use the past tense has shifted)
- Be curious and deliberately ask others “What little shifts have you noticed since …?”
- Relax – don’t try to persuade them to your view. If they can’t see an improvement, try asking them “How have we managed to keep things the same?” or “What have done that has stopped things getting worse?”
- Consider whether to tailor this approach with groups. For example, if one or two people typically lead the conversation, interrupt this pattern. Ask everyone to note down one shift they have seen. Then compare notes in pairs or trios before sharing with the wider group.
Go on, give these seven ways to encourage positive thinking in your team a whirl. Look for small shifts and let me know how you get on.