Making a Negative a Positive

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity;

an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

-Winston Churchill

Have you ever sat down with a colleague to share your frustrations with a task you are doing, or about another co-worker, or a challenge you are facing.  Often to find that you just “wasted” 30 minutes or an hour focusing on the problem instead of the solutions.  Have you ever been on the receiving end of a friend, co-worker, colleague who is really negative about a situation that they are dealing with?  At times this negativity can be draining, both to the person going through the challenge and the person listening.  Most Student Affairs professionals find that they develop strong relationships with some co-workers or a supervisor that will listen to their frustrations and help them find ways to see the silver lining, but often spend a great deal of time focused on the problem and issue instead of looking for the solution or the positive outlook on the situation.

How do you turn a positive into a negative?  Often it takes some time and practice, but it is important to reframe your outlook.  A few simple examples of how to do this are:

1.)     State a problem to a colleague or supervisor without attaching your personal emotions or challenges to the issue and allow the listener to explain how they would solve that problem.  Often we get so caught up in the emotions or how someone treated/mistreated us, that we feel personally attacked and stop looking for true solutions, instead we focus on road blocks.  The listener will not have the same feelings that you have attached to the situation and might find a solution easier or give better advice.

2.)    Reframe the situation, find the silver lining and focus on that.  This can be easier to say than to do.  However the idea is to go into a problem and always look for the positive.  Looking for the positive of a situation can be a healthier place to be and offer you more options to choose from.

3.)    We say this ALL the time to students, but make it an educational moment for yourself.  Yes, this is a difficult situation but look at what I am learning and the new skills I am developing.  Journaling such educational moments can be helpful when preparing for an interview or updating a resume, as you look at all you have learned.

“Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones,

you’ll start having positive results.”

-Willie Nelson

In my career in Student Affairs, I find that at times I have often focused on the negative for too long or have worked with other staff members and graduate students that have focused on the negative for much too long.  This can be stressful and lead to bitterness or unhappiness in one’s work environment.  Below are a few examples of changing your mindset for things that people have thought to be negatives:

The Negative:  Being a Student Affairs professional often keeps you out late at night and away from your family.

The Positive:  The way that I have made this a positive for myself is by including my children into events that are appropriate for them to attend, where making a presence is important to my students.  The students love having staff at events, but especially love when staff bring their children to a program or show or sports event.  This leads to the best of both worlds.  I get to see my students at their best and show support for them, as well as introducing my children to amazing students and college life.  My children love the attention of college students, who will play games with them, entertain them, and make them feel like a special member of the university community.

The Negative:  Having a supervisor or co-worker that you do not see eye-to-eye on.

The Positive:  First you need to realize that you cannot change this person.  You might be able to address with this person your frustrations and problem solve how to make the relationship, a productive one while working together, but for some people this might be harder to do.  In these situations I suggest that people look at the positives.  What are the positives?  Look for the positives in the relationship you do have with this person, or what they bring to the department or students.  I would disagree if someone said that a co-worker or supervisor did not bring anything positive to the department.  The very least, for a super negative personality, they bring a new way to look at a problem and allow a department to see where challenges may lay or a new way to tackle something.  If it is your supervisor, use this as a learning experience of what you would like to do differently with those that you supervise in the future or what qualities you feel are important to look for in your next supervisor.

The Negative:  I disagree with a policy or something that I need to do in my job.

The Positive:  EVERYONE has to face this at some point in their career.  What a great learning opportunity!  First, you will need to make the decision of how important this is to you and your code of personal ethics.  If it is something you do not believe ethically you can do, have that discussion with your supervisor, but realize you might need to make a choice (the decision and your job).  If it is something that you completely disagree with, have a conversation with your supervisor.  But perhaps there is some ability to either make a policy change or write new policy for the future.  I find that sometimes researching best practices helps me to sell an idea to someone else, or lets me know that I might have just not wanted to do a task because I found it too difficult and I need to adjust my way of seeing.

The Negative:  I have outgrown my current position, am looking for the next step, but am having a hard time finding the perfect job.

The Positive:  How do you keep yourself motivated in this situation, without becoming the negative thorn in the department?  THIS can be DIFFICULT!  First, sit down and think about what that next step is for you.  What are some ways in your current position, you might be able to work with your supervisor to get those opportunities.  What areas in your current position could you really put your stamp on, make shine, and leave a legacy?  Perhaps some small change will make a big impact on your outlook at the job-take a class, start a new degree, join the gym, get to know other professionals at your college or university better.  Instead of coasting through the position, step up and make some opportunities for yourself.

These are examples of situations I have either found myself in, or found myself listening to others talk about.  If you have additional ways you would handle these situations, please feel free to add comments.  If you have other common situations that people vent about with a stratgy you use to make that negative a positive, please feel free to share your thoughts.

“A man is but the product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes.”

–Mahatma Gandhi

Kelly S. Hennessy

Director of Residential Education

The College of New Jersey


1 Comment

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One response to “Making a Negative a Positive

  1. Courtney

    Kelly this is so great!! I’d love to work for you someday, this outlook is so important not only for other professionals but for students. Great post:)

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