We were in a team meeting discussing a creative new initiative. People were wondering if we should loop in a peer from another department, we’ll call her Sarah. “We probably should,” they said. “It’s part of her area.” Yet as they anticipated Sarah’s response, the room started to dim. What had, only minutes before, been an exciting opportunity was now fraught with angst.
It wasn’t that they were afraid Sarah would say no. She didn’t have the power to say no. It was their assumptions about her reaction to their project that sent the meeting south. Without Sarah being in the room or uttering a single word, the group was already annoyed at her. The mere anticipation of her behavior turned a positive project into a problematic one.
As they say, her reputation preceded her. This particular teammate, Sarah was known for stopping things, finding reasons something was wrong, and being generally unresponsive outside of her group.
You probably know people like this. Their behavior – be it negativity, nitpickiness, overreactions, or some other malady – makes things harder for others. After experiencing a person like this a few times, people begin to expect it. As with the team in the conference room, you get annoyed at the thought of their reaction, before the person even does anything.
This is problematic on two levels:
We can talk about being charitable with your thoughts, giving people the benefit of the doubt, and being non-judgmental, they’re lovely aspirations. Good humanhood aside, the biggest reason to avoid reacting to imagined negative behavior is to keep your brain space positive. Once you start spinning negative stories, you’re at risk for becoming negative yourself.
People form impressions of you based on the way you present yourself. Some of their most important impressions are formed by how you react to their ideas and presentations. If you routinely react negatively to the ideas and initiatives of others, or you ignore people, you’re going to get a negative reputation. Once your reputation is laid down it takes a huge effort to reverse it.
As you consider your reputation, ask yourself: If your colleagues were thinking about looping you into something important, what kind of reaction would they expect from you?