Value Added | Why People Don’t Follow Pessimists

Just in case you missed it, Jim Schleckser, CEO of Inc. Magazine recently published the rapidly trending article “People don’t follow pessimists.”

IMAGE: Getty Images
IMAGE: Getty Images

We’re happy to see positive psyche begin to gain some traction in the field of entrepreneurship.

Science confirms that reassurance and encouragement create engaged, energized cultures. When cultures permit participants to try new skills in an affirming environment, and participants can trust their leadership won’t penalize them for taking small risks they provide opportunities for growth.

Organizations that permit participants to provide straightforward feedback regarding challenges they encounter with their workflows or processes create healthy, performance culture — and a functional infrastructure for continuous improvement.

Research indicates that there is a fascinating phenomenon that occurs in which people often take on and adopt the very same traits they describe about others (good or bad — remember the Hatfields versus the McCoys?).

It has a lot to do with mirror neurons and how we use emotional resonance to imprint and recreate the emotional responses we are confronted with.

“Because negative faces are more salient and therefore more likely to grab our attention than are positive faces, people are faster at locating a single negative face in a display of positive faces than they are to locate a single positive face in a display of negative faces.”

Image credit |

When we see the facial expression of someone else, and this perception leads us to experience that expression as a particular affective state, we do not accomplish this type of understanding through an argument by analogy. The other’s emotion is constituted, experienced, and therefore directly understood by means of an embodied simulation producing a shared body state. It is the activation of a neural mechanism shared by the observer and the observed that enables experiential understanding. A similar simulation-based mechanism has been proposed by Goldman and Sripada (2004) as “unmediated resonance.”

In all of the above domains—of actions, intentions, emotions, and sensations—perceiving the other’s behavior automatically activates in the observer the same motor program that underlies the behavior being observed. That is, one internally simulates the observed behavior, automatically establishing a direct experiential line between observer and observed in that in both the same neural substrate is activated. Although we may and do employ more explicit hermeneutic strategies and arguments by analogy to understand another, embodied simulation—we propose—constitutes a fundamental basis for an automatic, unconscious, and noninferential understanding of another’s actions, intentions, emotions, sensations, and perhaps even linguistic expressions.

According to our hypothesis, such body-related experiential knowledge enables a direct grasping of the sense of the actions perform.

Vittorio Gallese et al.

Negativity has the power to shrink parts of our brain that controls our capacity to make positive associations. However, good narrative can enlarge us and open us up to one another, our relationship with the world around us, and a whole new world of possibilities.

Vanessa Van Edwards, founder of the shares some interesting insight in her interview 5 Habits of Exceptionally charismatic people. Be sure to check out the vid at 3:15 where she talks about spontaneous trait transference .

When you display negativity about an event or toward a person, even when it is grounded in truth, it

a) causes people to shut down,

b) causes negativity spreads like a contagion, and

c) makes people have to choose to distance themselves from you in order to take responsibility for their own discomfort

No matter what you’re feeling, you always have the power to

Take responsibility for the energy you bring to the room.

When you don’t feel as if that’s the case, 

listen to that feedback

give yourself permission to seek out help from someone who is trained to help you

focus on getting healthy — find a place of peace and safety where you can do what’s best (space and forgiveness are the best gifts you could ever give to yourself)

This means there may have been some inherent wisdom in the old adage,

I’m rubber, you’re glue.

or why people don’t feel comfortable following pessimists.

How many supervisors or colleagues would you trust to attend to your needs once they’ve communicated that they have reached their carrying capacity.

Do YOU want to follow THAT guy?

You’re much less likely to do so if a culture of blame shifting is pervasive.

Job hunting as a millennial can be incredibly discouraging when you show up to an interview and the person you’d be working for looks as if they haven’t been taking care of themselves or they very sternly mention how the role you’ve applied for has a bunch of busy work bolted onto it because you don’t trust millennials to stay off of their cell phones or to keep them from being lazy.

That actually happened once in one of my job interviews.

Believe it or not, it wasn’t the work that made me decline the offer, but rather the fear that if I woke up and had to go there and spend a third of my time there every single day, I wouldn’t feel as if I were a person who exercised good judgment.

I would wilt and probably become burnt out or resentful. I can’t imagine that would make me a very good leader.

Would you feel as if you used good judgment if you followed her lead knowing it would lead to this outcome?

That wasn’t what I wanted for my life, not because I’m naive.

I just understand why nothing healthy comes from being surrounded by pessimism. People don’t grow in this kind of environment.

I wouldn’t have been looking for a new job had I not been trying to take more responsibility for my health and my happiness. So I wouldn’t have been taking a step forward if I had have accepted a position in a place where I didn’t feel at base-level safe, if not somewhat inspired.

John C. Maxwell talks about the importance of creating community cultures in which people feel valued and have opportunities to grow or receive personal and professional development.

In situational leadership, positive and differential reinforcement are statistically the most effective methods of transforming an organization or personal habits.

Want to learn more about what kind of leadership you should be actively searching for?

Stay tuned.

*spoiler alert:

A leader worth following will demonstrate a willingness to be involved in your success (a mentor) — in addition to the success of the collective (sees the big picture).

A leader worth following will take care of their own personal and professional development and encourage you when they see you take responsibility for yours (provides positive reinforcement for healthy behavior).

A leader worth following will work to align you with the resources you need to feel empowered (promotes a sense of agency instead of dependency) without you having to ask for it (servant leadership).

We’ll talk more about this more in depth later.

In the meantime, check out Maxwell’s model ‘The 5 levels of leadership’ which will provide you with tremendous insight into why positive reinforcement has the highest rate of return for employee engagement in any professional environment.