The Positive Touch

I’m constantly seeking information for improving the various teams with which I engage , from filmmaking technology to sports and music. I read business articles, neuroscience and brain studies, sports inspirations, and track what makes team chemistry. I observe what holds bands together and what breaks them apart. So when I recently read The Feedback Fallacy. it really clicked with a lot of the interests in my life, creating a confluence of inner streams of thought. It’s leading me back to something I lost from my past: relentless positivity.

In Agile management, we like our teams to have trust in one another so that we can be freely critical of what we do; the idea is we need this freedom in order to help ourselves improve. This article on feedback highlights how we might misinterpret what that could mean. Negative criticism rarely helps team members learn how to improve, and generally degrades team chemistry. Worse, it actually might help in immediate short term situations, creating the worst kind of reinforcement for negative criticism, an intermittent one which creates somewhat of an addiction to it. An action may have been corrected in the short term, but there may be no learning for it to stick, because the negativity interferes with learning.

We need to be free to make mistakes and learn from them. We learn if we critically analyze the data, and processes, not the people. The trust that the team members earn from each other should be used to give team members the confidence to blaze unknown paths without fear of negative criticism. We can then learn from those paths, whether they are considered successes or failures. We reward learning, not results. We value collaboration to infuse learning with effective energy.

So how can team members help each other improve? According to the afore-mentioned article, the neuroscience backs a strategy that leverages an individual’s best qualities, evolves their strengths rather than focuses on their weaknesses. We shouldn’t pick on one’s lacking areas, as that does not create a healthy learning environment. Rather, we highlight what works for someone and how it was accomplished, so that it can spread.

This reminded me of my past before I had much experience in the business world. Which if you think about it, is ironic. It’s amusing that I need to go back to get what I want now after so many years. When I was just out of school I was relentlessly positive. Not just about what I was doing, in fact less about what I was doing and more about others around me. I tried to model Einstein’s desire to make all his debating colleagues right. I was an aspiring peacemaker, trying to see the best in everyone around me. Trying to see the best in everyone, even, as my roommates would remind me, if they did not deserve it. We laughed about this trait, and chalked it up to a youthful exhuberance that I retained longer than my friends and colleagues. But alas, I got sucked into losing it eventually like those around me.  It didn’t affect my ability to enjoy my many varied pursuits, from sports, dancing, singing, acting, and technological invention. In fact, given my inner drive I kept pushing through on personal development, training and learning to acheive goals. I studied Zen and acting therapy, and used my music and sports for great release and healthfulness. One of my favorite books at the time was The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, which came after Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was so popular.

Over time, as this positivity eroded, I continued learning more about management as well as the multiple domains I worked in from entertainment technology to sports coaching and singing direction, blending music, sports, and filmmaking. I was using disciplined self-development techniques to help me learn more about management. But not all management approahces are the same. I found different styles and studied those differences. All the while, experiences in life continued to take away my positivity.

What took it away? First, my dream job, which felt like having a hit record right out of college, was ripped from existence along with a whole division of a company (Mattel Electronics) in one day.  That was the day I decided I’d learn everything I could about management. But I did it in parallel with everything else in life. Tryng to resurrect the innovative designs from that dream job eventually fizzled from lack of funding, and required a new job hunt. The new job also brought innovation and satisfaction, but eventually dropped projects took more of my positive nature away while I continued to try to understand management failures. Meanwhile, as a single person in my 20s and early 30s, not all of my personal relationships worked. Duh. And that took a toll on how I felt about people, others. Others chiding me for my political naivete at work. Others holding me responsible for not allowing their bad behavior to hurt others. Continued intermittent success paired with plenty of criticism. I took it, fighting to improve, but perhaps despite the criticism.

Ever hear of coaches talk about tough love? Some can handle it. Some cannot. The nicer approaches say the coach should adapt style to the player’s ability to take it. But.. Can they really? I thought I was one of those who could take it because of my self-confidence in many areas developed through training in sports and dance. But if I examined areas where I didn’t have the same confidence, I had different results. And that started spilling over into the areas of confidence. I started erupting as reaction to the slightest negativity from a teammate. Negative criticism affects even the most solid positivity. Repetition whether good or bad enforces a direction. This is why we don’t just do things, but try to always do things right. Proper technique is as important as the repitition. So why not apply this same philosophy to coaching style.

Team chemistry relies on building trust. We practice honesty and transparency, building integrity and confidence in each other as much as in each self. This is easier in a positive environment. Even best friends and family members grow apart if negative criticism overwhelms the relationship. Why choose to be with someone who tears you down, even if presented in veils of humor to have fun. Ie, many think if the criticism is wrapped in a joke that everyone can enjoy, its ok. Newsflash, its not. Though it may present that way on the surface, with everyone in the group of friends laughing and having a great time, it is taking a toll little by little. Destroying trust. It digs and digs until limits are reached.

Urgency in communication requires a positive envelope for lasting success. How one deals with pressure and stress to enable swift action can often reveal their soul. Scolding may work in the short term and some learning happens, but over time scars build. Those who are scolded learn mostly to avoid being in the line of fire. As a consequence, paths toward improvement wander and weaken.

Acknowledgement is not enough. Getting back the positive touch will take practice. It will take practice with more specificity and less generality. It will take patience. Just as it was lost, it will take continual small steps to build up the energy from the inside, and remove the scars that hide it from the outside. It will take constant reachout, and collaboration with the others. The feedback needs feedback. I definitely can’t do it alone, because its all about the others.

Finally, since the positive touch deals with others, and I enjoy serving others, I will gain much more fulfillment. And that is the key to increased happiness. That in turn, helps spread the positive touch.