“I’ve always believed that you can think positive just as well as you can think negative.” Sugar Ray Robinson
It is so easy to be negative. If something is bothering a participant in a training session or a meeting, regardless of whether or not it has anything to do with the subject at hand, it seems to be human nature to find fault wherever possible. All too frequently, this unhappiness is expressed in negative and blaming messages levied at the trainer or meeting facilitator, who just happens to be in the wrong place at the right time.
This negativity becomes much more insistent and pervasive when there is a belief (real or imagined) that there are problems with what is being taught or proposed. In such instances, what is a trainer or meeting facilitator to do?
The most effective way to deflect negativity and convert it into more constructive dialogue combines techniques from an unlikely duo: the fields of improvisation and negotiation.
1. The Improvisation Technique of “Yes, And”
“Yes, and” is a cornerstone concept for improvisation. It is one key way that an improvisational skit is developed on stage.
“Yes” is an obviously positive and affirming word of agreement. When a person says “Yes, and” in response to another’s comment, the conversation builds in a constructive and cooperative fashion. The responder’s “and” works off of the first person’s statement and offers additional supportive or expansive ideas that relate directly to what was said.
In essence, the trainer or meeting facilitator says: “Yes, I see what you mean, and now let me add some more information or suggestions that pertain to what you just said.”
The two reframing techniques discussed below make active use of “yes, and” to convert negativity into constructive dialogue.
2. The Negotiation Technique of Reframing
Reframing the issue is a tried and true negotiation technique when faced with negativity.
When a participant brings up negative historical concerns, one reframing technique is to move the complainant’s focus from past wrongs to future remedies.
The first step is to acknowledge that the complaining individual has issues with past actions (without agreeing or disagreeing with that viewpoint). The second step is to focus the individual on identifying possible future remedies so that past (real or imagined) problems are not repeated.
In essence, the trainer or meeting facilitator says: “Yes, I see that you are upset about things that happened in the past and I am sorry you experienced them. What can we do to avoid a similar circumstance from this point on?”
When a participant makes negative statements aimed personally at the trainer or facilitator, another reframing technique emphasizes having the complainant focus on the problem rather than on a person.
Rather than getting defensive about what is essentially a personal attack, the trainer or facilitator can choose to reinterpret the personal attack as an attack on the problem.
In essence, the trainer or meeting facilitator says: “Yes, it is clear that you are very upset and I share your concern. Let’s see if we can find a workable solution to the problem.”
The “yes, and” technique (from the field of improvisation) and the two reframing techniques (from the field of negotiation) require the trainer or meeting facilitator to pay close attention to the verbal and nonverbal messages of the negative individual.
The fact that the expressed concerns have been heard and acknowledged is often very gratifying to the complainant. This can calm the situation down and lay the groundwork for more cooperative and constructive interpersonal communications.
May your learning be sweet.