A Fresh Look At Negativity

At Leadership Platform we believe that nothing is more important in a leader’s growth curve than insight into the dynamics of the negative and the positive.

In his book Seamless Leadership Adriaan Groenewald speaks of the five commonalties of life that we are all exposed to on a daily basis: Situations, People, Choices, Obstacles and Movement (SIPCOM). In all of these commonalities the interaction of perceived negatives and positives play a crucial and overriding role. It is extremely difficult (if not impossible) for leaders to move perceived barriers or obstacles to potential without an instinctive grasp of the importance of confidence in processing negative perceptions. To master movement dynamics we have to mentally as well as emotionally embrace the nature and interaction of negative and positive perceptions.

Defining the negative and the positive

One meaning of the terms negative or positive refers to a judgement call regarding the ethical or moral meaning of something. In our society we generally believe that murder and robbery and rape are negative happenings. We also in general believe for example that kindness, love and a good education are positive happenings. Our understanding of what is positive or negative in this context is heavily dependent on our believed values.

When we speak of negative and positive perceptions in regards to movement dynamics we are referring mainly to negative and positive expectations. In other words, we are speaking of the kind of feelings that are triggered in our emotions and minds by stimuli we come into contact with. If the perception we receive feels as if it may or will result in a harmful, threatening or unpleasant consequence, then we speak of a negative expectation. It the perception we have triggers a feeling of a possible positive or ‘good’ consequence for us, then we speak of a positive expectation.

A major reason why we are so quick to claim that we ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ something is  our response to negative or positive expectations in us.

Let’s take a closer look at negative expectations:

  • A negative expectation is not necessarily negative

Negative expectations are what we feel thousands of times a day when we have a feeling that a specific impulse or situation will/may have a negative impact on us. This is a human instinct and serves a most valuable role in our lives. Without such an instinct we will be in constant danger; mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. After all, this is what we are trying to teach our children (and adults for that matter!);’ do not touch a hot plate on the stove because it will burn you’. ‘Do not stay out at night after a certain time because you may land up in serious trouble’. ’Don’t drink and drive’, ‘Study compliance regulations before you act or else you may cause the organisation serious problems’.

Negative expectations are not necessarily a problem in life. They are simply emotional or mental expectations. How we react to negative expectations before we consider them as ‘final realities’ is the real challenge of leadership.

Having negative expectations is a most valuable asset to any person and leader. Without negative expectations we will not be able to cope with life. It often serves as our early warning system.

If negative expectations are in general a great positive asset in our life, then why do they cause so much pain and anxiety in us? Read on.

  • What one person perceives as ‘negative’ is not necessarily what somebody else perceives about it.

All of us have different backgrounds and personalities. What one person perceives as a negative expectation, a thousand others may see as non-threatening or a necessary part of the solution.

For example, if I hear thunder overhead my first expectation may well be: Is it going to rain and possibly hail! I don’t have an umbrella with me and/or I am scared of having my car damaged by hail. A farmer facing a long drawn-out drought may well react to the same thunder with excitement because he expects a possible rain storm that may lift the damaging drought on his farm.

  • Negative perceptions are constantly in flux

We may often have a negative ‘feeling’ about a situation and a few minutes later may feel completely different. This happens all the time to all of us. As we drive on the highway we may regularly experience a sharp negative expectation about a taxi threatening to knock us of the road. A second later that perception may be changed as the taxi continues along the highway and leaves us at peace.

How often have we seen an expression on another person’s face and for a moment we feel we KNOW he or she has negative feelings about us. Then the person smiles and so often we find that person likable and acceptable. The previous negative expectation may have simply evaporated like mist before the son.

Negative expectations change like the Cape Town weather. One moment the sun shines and the next it is overcast and so windy that we can hardly stand on our feet.

  • We tend to confuse negative expectations with the end result

By this we mean that we tend to attach a value or meaning to a negative expectation before we process the situation. This is a major reason we develop what we call negative stress, or doubts, fears, despondency or desperation. In reality a negative expectation(s) is just one part of the adult process of making mature decisions.

When we perceive a negative expectation outside of a trusted process, then we say it is in ‘stand-alone mode’. When a negative expectation is in ‘stand-alone mode’ it invariably assumes massive and distorted proportions. It seems to shout for attention and claims an importance that is most often completely unjustified when perceived in context with other realities.

  • In the vast majority of cases negative expectations are not realised

What deceives us is the feel of negative expectations. They tend by their very nature to shout for attention and they tend to strive after some kind of reality prominence in our hearts and minds. The vast majority of negative expectations are never realised.

An understanding of the relationship between perceptions of positive and negative is a key to understanding human behaviour. It also happens to be a key to understanding leadership dynamics, the art of moving people and situations.

Understanding negative expectations is a prerequisite to a positive attitude

Before we can fully enter the vast and significant world of positive feelings and expectations we need to change our attitude towards negative expectations in harmony with the concepts mentioned above. Negative expectations are not the enemy. Our reaction to them may well be our main barrier to excellence.

Louis Groenewald – The Old Man


Do you recognise some areas in yourself as a leader or areas in your team that need improvement?

Contact Adriaan Groenewald for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside you as a leader and your organisation.

Adriaan Groenewald is a leadership expert and commentator

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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