Q and A: How a pessimist can be constructive without faking it
Question: I tend to the pessimist side of the scale. It's just who I am, and I'm not trying to change that. However, I'd like to use my outlook constructively at work, and also be able to brainstorm positive possibilities. How can I broaden my pe...
Question: I tend to the pessimist side of the scale. It's just who I am, and I'm not trying to change that. However, I'd like to use my outlook constructively at work, and also be able to brainstorm positive possibilities. How can I broaden my perspective?
Answer: Learning to use different lenses doesn't change who you are, it just makes you more skillful.
THE INNER GAME
Check out your level of self-acceptance. Underneath "it's just who I am," do you find defensiveness? If you've been pressured to look on the bright side, it may be harder to accept the ways in which your natural outlook can be useful.
Also notice whether you have any residual reactions to borrowing from the positive side. Your intent to selectively adopt that framework is laudable; you wouldn't want it to be derailed by an internal perspective that invalidates it. There's some glorification of cynicism these days, and the positive perspective is often the victim.
Analyze your natural approach. It's one thing to be a pessimist; it's your communication skills that make you either constructive or just a naysayer. If you're not sure how you come off, ask around to get some feedback.
Look around you, and notice the best examples of an effective pessimist. Who are they and how do they behave and communicate? It can also be fun to learn from the worst. What does it look like to be over the top, either on the pessimistic on the positive side? This can be an effective way to calibrate your level.
Get specific about the benefits of each perspective. For example, "The pessimist view allows me to ..." Your response may include items related to anticipating risks or avoiding unintended outcomes. Take the same approach to the positive side, which may include generating new options or finding solutions to risks.
THE OUTER GAME
Practice will make perfect on this shift, so try it out. Pick a situation in which you'll be comfortable with the people you're with and knowledgeable about the topic. Then do some preparation. For the situation at hand, make two lists, one from each perspective. What are the concerns that the pessimist raises, and how would you phrase them so that they're set up for constructive consideration? How does the positive perspective help develop risk management strategies or identify additional options?
In the actual meeting, it may be hard to remember the results from your preparation. Jot down some catch phrases, such as "what's another way to look at this" that will help you keep the dual lenses in mind.
How did you do? It may be hard to see yourself in action, so before the meeting, ask another participant to give you feedback. Share your plan so that your observer can pay specific attention to the behavior you're trying to exhibit.
Then fine-tune your approach and keep practicing. Take time to analyze the benefits and ways to improve, and remember to prepare in advance as long as it feels necessary. Eventually it'll become second nature.
THE LAST WORD
Each of us has a natural perspective, but learning to adopt a different point of view will make you a more effective business partner.