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Whatever Works, Do More of It!

Have you ever come out of a performance appraisal feeling demotivated and demoralised? Even if your manager has carefully balanced the negatives with positives, I suspect it is the criticisms and identification of development needs that stick in the mind. There are both physiological and psychological reasons for this.


As Professor Cliff Nass of Stanford University wrote, “The brain handles positive and negative information in different hemispheres. Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones”.


A few years ago, I happened to work with a coach who was a leading practitioner in Solutions Focus. Adapted from a model of therapy, Solutions Focus is a coaching approach which concentrates on identifying what is working well and then, simply, doing more of it. By focussing on positive actions and outcomes, and emphasising peoples’ strengths, this type of approach creates a virtuous circle of continuous improvement. My own personal experience is that it can have a powerful impact, both individually and in a team environment, on performance, on outcomes and on engagement - and in a short timescale.


But the prevailing attitude towards personal development and organisational change is to look at what isn’t working well and to identify measures to solve problems and make improvements. This approach can create a negative mindset and can also push individuals into areas of discomfort, which can be counterproductive.


Of course, we all need to develop and learn new skills in work and in life and it is important to understand where there is room for growth. But too much of a focus on development needs can result in sub-optimal outcomes. How many of us know the senior director who is brilliant at strategy but is disorganised and struggles with detail? Had she focussed on improving those areas rather than her strengths, she may have compromised her ability as a blue-sky thinker. Perhaps doing more of what works and building support around her to mop up the detail and organise her time would be a more successful approach.


Reflecting on what works well for you can be a powerful way to develop confidence and improve outcomes. Recognising what made a difficult conversation go well, or how you landed a complex issue in a challenging meeting, can help you to recognise your strengths….and then enable you to do more of it. Keeping a record of these small victories and what made them a success could be the most important thing you can do to advance your career. Whatever works, do more of it!


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