Getting past labels and first impressions

On our way out of a meeting, I struck up a conversation with the new guy.  This had been his first meeting, and I’m not sure he felt like it went all that well.

He had raised a dissenting voice more than once.

“I’m really not a negative person,” he said after a couple minutes of interaction.

A thought hit my brain lightning fast: “Then you might try saying things that aren’t negative!”

The filter held.  Just a minute or two later I realized I had a potential blog topic.

If you don’t want people to think of you as negative, don’t say negative things. Well, that’s a pretty short blog post.  Maybe I could flesh it out a little.

Fleshing out such a seemingly clear and straightforward concept quickly caught me in potential hypocrisy.  Sometimes I spout negative ideas or points of view pretty darn quickly.

Am I a negative person?

What’s more, I just began reading Wiser, a book about “Getting Beyond Groupthink.”

We need people willing to stand, to share, to question, against the status quo or the dominant direction of thought a group takes.

Do we need negative people?

Is there a difference between saying something negative and being a negative person?

Of course there is.  And I had quickly dropped this “new guy” at the meeting into the “negative person” bin of my categorizing mind.

I was ready to leave him there.

But, then, I pursued conversation.  As he and I will be serving together on a committee for at least the next year, I didn’t want to leave it at “the new guy is just negative.”

Sunstein and Hastie (co-authors of Wiser), write about the danger of groupthink.  Spending time only with people who tend to agree with you and who tend to side with you on issues has the effect of making you -individually, and as a group – more extreme.

If there is one thing we need no more of these days, it is people at the extremes.

It would do us all good to spend time with people we don’t agree with on everything.  We practice listening, and we practice saying things in ways that can be heard by someone not already on the same side of the fence we are.

Then, perhaps, none of us will be judged by the first words out of our mouths.

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