Negativity is the shark in the room and you are the chum

I have been stuck in a room with no windows for the last three days with a group of bitter, sadistic men huddled around my laptop as I try to work an enterprise software deal. The analogy is this: imagine you are trying to sell a shiny new bicycle and your prospect wants to take it for a ride. They get on the bike and one of the pedals falls off. No big deal, it does have two pedals after all… Strained smiles are exchanged but the prospect really likes the shine on the bike and so the evaluation continues. Then one of the tires goes flat followed by the handlebars coming apart. Next, some of the spokes pop out, the seat falls off and the chain comes loose. After three days of beating this thing up it hardly resembles a bicycle and the client is not happy. Such has been my week.

Trying to stay positive I attempted to turn each negative situation around. “It has two pedals for a purpose..” or,  “The handlebars just need a little tightening.” I focused doggedly on the resolution of each issue making sure the client agrees with each of my answers. I am learning along with my prospect that my software (a.k.a the bicycle) is crap. As soon as one problem is fixed another takes its place. After three days of this I am starting to run out of ideas and hope.

The men in the room are used to a world void of hope and ideas. They work all day in dark cubicles, under fluorescent lamps, in a man made atmosphere of stale air and coffee. Their world is punctuated with stress and the circus I provided them was a welcome distraction. They encouraged me to keep at it and did so for sadistic reasons. They wanted me to fail.

“Ha ha ha! Did someone trip over the powercord? Very funny!” I said with a fake smile followed by a loud and uncomfortable swallow. The sinister faces staring back at me frightened me. They were enjoying this way too much. It was then I had realized they were encouraging my failure and I was feeding it to them by the shovel-full. At some point I just had to stop digging. I had to face facts: I had a shitty bike and an overly negative audience. I was in a no win situation.

Negativity is not always plain to see. It can come in subtle forms and it can slowly work its way into your world. There are times when you may walk face first into a negative situation (as I did) and not even realize it. It is only when you feel the the bullseye on your forehead do you realize what is going on. The worst part about this entire scenario is I brought this negativity home with me. I didn’t enjoy my personal life because I knew I had to go back into this environment the next day. I was awash in misery and it showed.

So what do you do in these situations? How can you shield yourself and your personal life from the angst of the work day? Negativity is sticky. It is catchy. It propagates. What can you do about it? The answer is this: cut the cord as clean as possible and walk away from it.

Fighting against negativity is almost always futile. If someone has a “I can’t” or a “You can’t” attitude and repeatedly vocalizing it, telling them that they are wrong does not help. The reverse is true. It is actually better to do as little as possible to stoke the flames. Countering the negativity is only like throwing chum in the water. It will simply attract more angst. The best thing to do when you find yourself in a negative situation is to just walk away.

“I have demonstrated over the last three days the benefits of using my software. Along the way we had a few stumbles…”

A few? The crowd murmurs in return.

“Gentleman, every software has bugs. I see no use in continuing this exercise if we continue to focus on the negatives and refuse to see the merits in what this software can do for you and your organization. Bugs can be fixed. The right application of my technology can help your business. Can you or can you not see this?” I call out the question leaving it up to a simple yes or no answer.  “Good luck folks. I will let you sleep on it. You know how to find me.”




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