Embrace your pessimism, at least for some time.
It might save your life.
Pop culture bombards us with “the glass is half full” messages and scolds those that refer to anything that resembles “a half empty glass”. Yet we owe our existence, in part, to the survival strategies that kick in when we view things pessimistically.
Pessimism is instinctive and can be a good defense strategy. Our previous successes can lull us into becoming lassie faire or overconfident. This can prevent us from being at our best, especially in disruptive times.
In “The Positive Power of Negative Thinking”, research psychologist Julie Norem says defensive pessimism can be helpful, when we focus on specific negative outcomes and work out strategies for action, should we need to call them into action.
Yet the pessimist label can hamper effective teamwork multicultural organizations. I have seen people jump to conclusions, calling someone a pessimist, simply because they used the word problem, instead of challenge.
As an advisor and consultant who has worked with 80 nationalities in 26 countries, I have learned just because you call something a problem does not mean you are a pessimist. Based in Munich, I am surrounded by Germans who often use the word problem and I certainly would not consider them pessimists. From my experience, Germans are eager to find and name a problem, because it can then be solved or improved upon. When Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell communicated the discovery of an explosion during their Apollo 13 space flight, they did not say, “Houston, we have a challenge”. They simply called it a problem and went on to solve it with Ground Control in Houston.
Pessimistic perspectives and naming problems is not enough to help us successfully navigate out of this pandemic. It is vital that we exercise our choices, intentionally selecting optimistic outlooks that stimulate and encourage hope, reminding ourselves that Covid 19 is not an extinction level event.
We will learn, adapt and survive, yet to thrive now and in the future, we need to listen, respect and balance the pessimist and optimist in all of us. Pessimism is instinctive and fundamental to our survival, while optimism is something we can learn, and essential for our thrivival.
How are you encouraging meaningful conversations that release both the pessimistic and the optimistic perspectives in your leadership team?
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