Positive Discussions Encourage Creativity

By: Lou QuintoLeadership Speaker & Executive Coach, Executive Development Associates, Inc. 

Positive Discussions Encourage CreativityThroughout the past decade I have worked with IT departments at many Fortune 500 companies. With each company I have encountered depressing stories about unproductive and highly negative interactions that have taken place in their “post implementation review” meetings – known in the IT vernacular as a PIR 

A PIR is conducted at the conclusion of the implementation of an IT project for continuous improvement purposes. The primary objective of these meetings is to identify areas where improvements can be made to the implementation process for the next project. The agenda usually includes three focal points 1) discuss the outcome of the most recent project, 2) identify successes and opportunities, and, 3) brainstorm potential improvements when planning the organization’s next big initiative. Seems innocuous enough, right? Maybe even productive? 

But the actual meeting can be anything but productive. In a room full of high achievers, people shine the light on all the trouble spots and create a laundry list of things that went wrong. Brainstorming soon morphs into “Blame Storming”. Everyone leaves the meeting bruised and battered. 

On the surface, our focus on problems and trouble spots seems to be in keeping with the spirit of continuous improvement. Unfortunately, when the meeting focuses solely on what went wrong, it destroys our ability to be productive. 

In his groundbreaking research on group dynamics, researcher Marcial Losada identified 15 high performing teams based on profitability, customer satisfaction, and peer reviews. He then recorded their interactions during planning meetings, contrasting their communications with 26 mid and low performing teams. He found that the mean “positivity ratio” of the high performers was three positive comments to every negative comment. For the low performing teams, the ratio was 0.4 to 1. He also observed that following bouts of negativity, teams lost their ability to flex their behaviors and to question appropriately. Team members simply devolved into an endless loop of self-absorbed advocacy for their own positions. 

So, what’s the learning for us? In order to encourage high levels of critical thinking in your team meetings, do the following: 

  1. Start with the positives: Unless we acknowledge that there are many strengths we can leverage, there is a danger that we will focus only on our weakness, closing the door to innovation. You want to remember and reinforce everything that went well so you can build on your success. 
  2. Spontaneously appreciate: When people are challenged, their natural response is to go into fight or flight mode. To keep people in the collaborative mindset necessary for effective problem solving, first identify the positives of all ideas before offering concerns. 
  3. Be generous: It’s hard to overdo it. Further research by Barbara Fredrickson at the University of Michigan found there to be an “upper limit” to positivity, but it doesn’t kick in until you reach a ratio of 11:1. But, make sure your appreciation is genuine, as a lack of sincerity in discussing strengths can do more harm than good. 

Employ these tactics consistently at your next series of team meetings, and I am “positive” you will see improved results in your critical thinking. 

About the Author: 

Lou Quinto has over 20 years of experience in employee development, management training, executive coaching, and consulting with expertise in teaching managerial skills, critical thinking skills, professional presentation skills, and motivational speaking. His style of training and consulting is described by clients as engaging, motivating, and productive, making him a popular choice for conducting seminars, management retreats, and executive coaching sessions. Lou is a graduate of Purdue University and resides in Indianapolis, IN.