Think of everything that changes when you walk into a situation and are expecting a negative outcome. Without a word exchanged, you are already disappointed, you will inevitably pick up on more negative statements than positive, and your responses will naturally be more defensive. Your body language, eye contact and other non-verbal cues will all be tainted by the thoughts you were having before you walked into the room.
Much is made of how important a handshake is when first meeting someone, especially in the context of an interview. But do you really think that a firm handshake is going to leave the desired impact if you have a scowl on your face? Or if your posture gives away your inner fear and anxiety?
Amy Cuddy, Social Psychologist, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, and author of Presence – Bringing Your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges did a TED Talk in June 2012 titled “Your body language shapes who you are”. In it she talks about power poses, and gives some quick exercises to perform prior to going into an interview. While I believe that your physical state can affect your mental state, the reverse is also very true. When you are disappointed, anxious or just feeling negative, you tend to slump your shoulders, keep your head close to your body and are more likely to fidget with your hands. All of these non-verbal cues are subconsciously picked up by those around you (if they are paying attention, at least).
My suggestion, therefore, is to think positively. Look at every situation and think about the outcome that you want. Even in the most challenging of situations, there is always the potential for a positive outcomes. Let’s take the example of an employee being told that they are being put on probation and will be coached and monitored for the next 6 months. It is obviously normal for this employee to be nervous, anxious and scared. But, if they go into meetings with that attitude, what do you think will happen? They will likely be distracted, focusing on any negative feedback they get, and ultimately not be able to improve their performance and turn the situation around.
Now take that same example, but this time the individual looks at what positive outcomes are possible: This is an opportunity to improve their performance, or simply let others see the hard work they have been putting in all along, and finally get to the bottom of any issues that may exist in the organization. They go into every meeting focusing on this positive outcome with an equally positive outlook. They are able to hear both the praise and the constructive criticism, demonstrate their ability by performing at their absolute best, and ultimately turn the situation around such that they are in a better position than before they were being observed.
The next time you are confronted with a challenging situation, be it a project that you think is going to fail before it starts, a client meeting that you have no faith in, or a challenging conversation with a relative, focus on the positive outcome that you want, and force yourself to have a positive outlook, you’ll be better off for it.