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How To Eliminate Drama at Work

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

Let's play out a common scenario:

Email from boss: Will I get that report today?

Employee Thought: Seriously? Does she not know how much I have on my plate? Doesn’t she remember that the report is due at 2pm? It’s 8am. Why is she asking? She must be mad at me. Shit. I’m tired of this. I need to find a new job.

Whoa!!!! That went south quickly.

It seems extreme, but honestly, I know you have been there. Either as the employee or unknowingly as the leader who does not understand why employees don’t seem to respect or like you.

Why Does This Happen?

The brain really loves to go full crisis. It’s called the Negativity Bias.

‘Negativity Bias’ refers to our proclivity to “attend to, learn from, and use negative information far more than positive information” (Vaish et al., 2008, p.383). We can think of it as an ‘asymmetry’ in how we process negative and positive occurrences to understand our world, one in which “negative events elicit more rapid and more prominent responses than non-negative events” (Carretié et al., 2001, p.75).

Among other things, it can explain why we often:

  • Recall and think about insults more than compliments;

  • Respond more – emotionally and physically – to averse stimuli;

  • Dwell on unpleasant or traumatic events more than pleasant ones; and

  • Focus our attention more quickly on negative rather than positive information.

Negativity bias is thought to be an adaptive evolutionary function (Carpaccio & Berntston, 1999; Vaish et al., 2008; Normal et al., 2011). Thousands of years ago, our ancestors were exposed to immediate environmental threats that we no longer need to worry about – predators, for example – and being more attentive to these negative stimuli played a useful role in survival.

Negativity bias helps us avoid potentially harmful stimuli in the absence of learned information

about ambiguous stimuli.

Absence and ambiguity are key terms when applying the negativity bias to the scenario with the micromanaging boss above. <