The classic Job Review centers on the question “What are you doing wrong?” Instead, have check-in meetings every few weeks with each of your reports that center on what is going right.

Ingaging Leadership

Four Keys to Being a More Positive Manager

Evan Hackel

By Evan Hackel


If you are an executive or supervisor, do you know how the people you manage feel about their encounters with you? When you ask one of them to stop by your office or join a video call, for example, do they think “this is going to be something great” or, “I am probably in trouble.” And when they look up from their desks and see you standing there, do they want to smile or run for an exit?

I am exaggerating, of course. Yet I have noted that most interactions between managers and the people they supervise in business tend to be negative. Could this be happening with you? Instead of blaming the people you supervise for this situation, you can take these four steps to change every interaction from negative to positive.

Start Listening for What People Are Saying that Is Right, Not What Is Wrong

I call this Ingaged Listening, and it is simple to practice.

When people are talking with you, stop listening for things you can correct or dispute. Focus instead on the things they say that are useful, do-able, positive or even inspiring. And when you hear one, follow up with statements like these:

  • “That idea is simply great. Can I put you in charge and ask you to develop it further?”
  • “If I turn you loose to make that happen, what resources do you need from the company . . . how can we help you?”
  • “Do you have other ideas or suggestions that are related to the great one you just gave me?”

If you follow this advice, your people will come to see you as an enabler, not a limiter. Positivity will win the day.

Replace Annual or Semi-Annual Job Reviews with Positive, Frequent Check-In Meetings

The classic Job Review centers on the question “What are you doing wrong?” Instead, have check-in meetings every few weeks with each of your reports that center on what is going right. Of course if a report is having difficulties or needs support, you will get around to discussing that – but you won’t start your conversation by fixating on problems.

You can start check-in meetings with questions like these:

  • “What has gone really, really well since our last meeting?”
  • “What have you and your team done that you are proud of?”
  • “Have you learned something valuable and new since we last spoke that you would like to explore further?

The change from punishing to positive will transform the productivity and satisfaction within your team. If you try this for just one month, you will be convinced.

Apply the “Five to One” Rule

This way to turn communication from negative to positive is simplicity itself. For every statement you make that your listener could see as negative, you say five positive things.

Even then, you should take pains to phrase those possible negatives in positive terms and offer support:

  • Instead of saying, “What’s the holdup?” you can say, “That’s a great start, but what resources or support can we find to get that project moving ahead?” or, “Can we take something off your plate for the next few weeks so you can focus on this?”
  • Instead of saying, “You don’t seem to understand what I want you to do,” you can say, “Did we frame this problem the right way, or do we need to rethink it?”
  • Instead of saying, “Get Jim off the project, he’s the holdup,” you can say, “Are there other people we can bring in to help?”

Use the Power of Three Things to Transform Your Outlook

Now I would like to recommend a way to look at the world in a more positive way. I suppose this step is optional, but I strongly recommend it because it has brought about remarkable change in my own outlook.

Years ago, I started to ask everyone at my family’s dinner table to describe three positive things that had happened to them during the course of the day. I don’t think they understood exactly why I was doing that – I probably didn’t grasp the full importance of it either at the time.

At first, my children were a little skeptical, even a little resistant. Their attitude conveyed an unspoken thought, “Oh, Dad . . . why should I have to do this?”

But then they seemed to warm to the idea. Even more importantly, they realized that they needed to be on the lookout for good things during the course of the day, because they knew we would be discussing them at dinner. That expectation created a tremendous change in the way we were all experiencing our days. We were looking for good things, so instead of seeing the world through negative eyeglasses, we began to see it through positive ones.

After all, so many of us have developed the habit of seeing our day in terms of the negatives, and that is what we talk about. We had a difficult day at work, the checkout lines were long at the grocery, the train home was delayed, the other drivers were crazy. We miss the positives. But with a simple shift, we can learn to turn around that way of thinking and seeing the world.

I would encourage you to experiment with Three Things, and to let me know the effect it has on you and those around you.

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