Turning Negatives into Positives


I’m sure we’ve all experienced a situation where someone pays you a compliment which is then immediately negated by the word but. There seems to always be a but. I know I’ve experienced it more times than I can count and have even done it myself more times than I’d ever like to admit. Who hasn’t? There’s one thing that’s for certain, the but hurts. And in my experience, anything before the but loses all its worth and luster.

Recently, I’ve been more in tune to this type of talk and have been trying really hard not to participate in it… (wait for it…) but (you had to know it was coming), sometimes this is really hard to do. I’ve found that I talk this way with my kids, my husband and my friends, but I’m working very hard to correct it. (See what I did there? If not, keep reading and you will).

I love that blouse, but not that color.
You did a fantastic job, but next time do it this way.
It’s a gorgeous day outside, but it sure is windy.

There’s no way anyone feels good after a conversation that ends with any statement like those examples. Kids who are working so hard to build self-esteem are especially vulnerable to this kind of talk. Nothing takes the wind out of a proud kid’s sails quite like the “you did good, but…” sentence.

New employees are kind of like kids

I started a 2 year internship a year ago last November (yay! I’m almost done!). I’m still learning the process for doing my job, which is extensive and requires a lot of writing. The documents I write are signed by my supervisor and put into official record, so they have to be very well written and she has to agree with what I’ve written or it can’t be signed. She returned something to me earlier this week that I’d worked really hard on with the sentence “Good start, but it needs some work. Please see the comments. Once it is revised, we can go over it. It’s important that you understand why it needs to be revised. Take a thoughtful crack at it.” Um… thanks?

When I opened the document, I saw she had lined through 90% of what I’d written and re-wrote it. The only paragraph that remained was one that is standard for our industry – pretty much a copy and paste paragraph from every other document we’ve ever used in our office, with some minor tweaks to fit the situation. It seemed like the entire document was in red. Why did she even tell me I’d made a good start if she changed everything I’d written? Why not just say “this sucked, so I re-wrote it for you. Better luck next time”? It would have had the same effect on my confidence.

My confidence in my ability to do my job took a nose dive at that exact moment. How am I going to graduate out of the intern program and get a permanent position if I have this kind of response to the document I spent an entire day writing? I immediately wondered if this was the right field for me. It was a serious blow to my psyche. I was so disappointed that I didn’t even read her changes or her comments as to why she’d made them. I’ll read them when I recover from this blow, but for now I feel wounded. Is this how my kids feel when I use the word but? I could only imagine so, which means this is something I desperately need to work on.

Switch it up

When I feel myself engaging in this type of communication, I try to remember what I learned during grad school – to keep what ordinarily would be taken as negative feedback, positive in perception. It’s important to remember that everything behind the but is remembered and everything before the but is negated – so unless you want the person to whom you’re speaking to feel low and broken, switch the order in which you make your statements so they feel more positive.

That’s not my favorite color, but I really love that blouse.
Normally it’s done a different way, but I think you did a great job.
It sure is windy out here, but the sun feels amazing on my skin.

In the situation with my supervisor, I would have felt much better about my document and her changes if she had said “there are quite a few corrections I would suggest, but I think you made a great stab at this. Take a look at what I did and see if you agree with my changes. If you have questions, I’m here to discuss/explain it.” I would have felt *much* less defeated after seeing her changes had she prefaced them with a more positive message like this one. (And I might have actually reviewed her comments already instead of putting it off like I have).

Remember, whatever you place behind the but is what is remembered. So, next time you’re in a situation where a but is necessary, try to spin it around so it’s positive. Leave the person with the positive but, not the negative but. Not only will this reversal of feedback structure help the person with whom you’re talking feel more optimistic about the work they’ve done, it’ll make you feel more optimistic, too. Something as simple as this might just be all it takes to make the world a happier place.

Ready for a change?

I had a conversation with someone earlier today about something they want to change about their life. We got to talking about what steps this person was taking to realize that desire and I noticed they weren’t really doing much to get them closer to their goal. I wanted to ask them why they weren’t working harder; why they weren’t doing what they needed to do to see the change. Why are they just sitting there while their life passes by, living the same life day to day that they are unhappy with?

I consider myself very proactive and driven when it comes to setting and reaching for my goals and while I know not everyone is of the same mindset, I get frustrated just the same when I see someone slighting themselves or making excuses for why things haven’t turned out like they envisioned. This situation often makes me think the person is lazy and passive – like they’re sitting idly by hoping things will change without their needing to do any actual work, but maybe they’re actually just uneducated. Maybe they don’t know how to make the changes they long for. Maybe this lack of knowledge is what has them frozen in their current position. Maybe they need someone to help them along. Maybe there needs to be a class on how to change their life…

Welcome to Life Change 101, an abbreviated overview on making a life shift happen. 

Whether you want to go back to school, lose some weight, reach a fitness goal, get pregnant, improve your mental health status or start a new career, one thing remains true through it all – you have to actually work for it. You have to evaluate what it is you want, become educated on what it will take to achieve it, and then execute a plan to make it happen.

When you find your life isn’t where you wanted it to be, there are two things you can do – you can sit there and hope it’ll magically change, or you can stand up and make it happen. If you should choose the former, don’t expect much to to be different when you wake up tomorrow morning. If you choose the latter, however, prepare for infinite possibilities. Before you start, though, there are three questions I recommend you ask yourself.

What change do I want to make?
What do you think will make you happier? Is a job change in order? Do you want to go back to work after taking time off to raise your children? Do you want to go back to school? Lose weight? Improve your fitness? Have another kid? What do you want? Why do you want it? Some soul searching might be required for you to truly determine what you want to see your life become. This might require some time so don’t rush it. It’s important to move forward, but it’s more important to move forward in a worthwhile direction. Don’t just move to move. Move with a purpose you truly believe in.

What do I need to do to accomplish my goal? 

  1. Learn what it’ll take to go back to school, what options are available to help pay for it, and how you’ll fit it into your life.
  2. Look for internships to help you gain experience in your field if you’ve been out of the professional world for an extended period of time.
  3. Study nutrition and fitness and educate yourself on how the human body works if you plan to compete in a long distance race or lose weight.
  4. Evaluate what obstacles that stand in your way – child care, finances, shortage of time, etc.

Make a list of everything that stands in the way of you achieving your goals. Next to this list, formulate a list of how you can overcome those obstacle. From this, formulate a plan for how you’ll make it all work.

Find scholarships to pay for school. Talk to your employer about tuition assistance. Talk to friends about how they made attending classes fit around a full time work schedule and a family. Make arrangements with friends for childcare swapping to provide care for your children while you attend classes or hit the gym. Check with your health insurance policy or life insurance policy to see if there’s a discount or incentive that accompanies going to the gym and improving your fitness. Check with your employer as well; some employers pay gym memberships because they understand a fit employee is a more productive employee. You never know what’s out there or who’s willing to help unless you ask around.

Am I ready to execute my plan?
You’ve done so much work to this point determining what you want to do and how you will be able to do it, all that’s left is the execution! You know all there is to know about the degree program you want to study. You’ve talked to your boss and he’s agreed to adjust your work hours so you can take classes. You may have found an internship to get you experience in your degree field so you can add experience to that blank resume. You found a friend who’s willing to take your children two nights a week so you can take your classes in exchange for watching her kids while she runs on Saturday. You’ve done all you possibly can to prepare. You’ve mapped out the path. All that’s left now is to walk it. Strap on those boots and let’s get to hiking!

Bottom line:
Nothing comes to anyone while sitting idly by. You won’t get the life you want by sitting on your arse waiting for it to land in your lap. It just doesn’t work that way.

Whatever the change is you wish to see in your life, you must acknowledge that it’s not going to just happen to you. You aren’t going to wake up tomorrow and have the life you always dreamed of. You have to get out there and make it so. You have to fight for what you want. No one is going to give it to you, but it’s there for the taking if you should decide to you want it badly enough. The only thing standing in your way is you.