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Looking on the Bright Side

Posted November 27, 2013 • Change,Leadership,Mindfulness • by Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, Ph.D.

So often we look at the negative: what didn’t go well, what we did (and we wish we hadn’t), what others did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say (that we wish they hadn’t)…the list is long, and can sometimes seem never-ending.

In my work coaching successful entrepreneurs and executives, there is one tendency that cuts across industry lines, levels of hierarchy and leadership.

After people perform a task– whether it is giving an important presentation to the Board of Directors, making a speech in front of hundreds of direct reports, leading a meeting or giving a performance review– when I ask them, “So, how did it go?” they spend about 30 seconds telling me what went well, and then they launch into a long list of all the things they’d do differently next time.

This is, arguably, a smart way to do things. It may, in fact, be at least partially responsible for the extraordinary successes these people have achieved. They may argue,” How will we ever improve if we’re not able to look critically at ourselves and others, and figure out ways to do things differently? What is the purpose of looking at what worked well?”

As someone who also tends to look critically and ask what more can be done, I can relate. But I know that balance is the key here. Looking at what works well enables you to do MORE of it. You can effectively build on existing success once you acknowledge what it is.

And focusing on what other people are doing well gives them the motivation to continue doing those things, and to do them better, with even more innovation, with even more drive, next time.

One way to ensure that you balance looking at what you want to change AND what is already going well is to use a simple tool called the “Plus/Delta”. Here’s how it works:

Take a sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle. Put a “+” sign on the top left side of the page, and a “delta” sign on the top right (the “delta” triangle being the mathematical sign for “change”).

After you do anything challenging, write down at least 3 bullets describing things you did well, or that went well, on the left side of the page, and at least 3 bullets describing things you would change going forward.

I encourage my clients to conduct a “Plus/Delta” analysis after every important presentation they give, difficult conversation they have, sales meeting they conduct…anything they do where the stakes feel high, they’re nervous, and they’re concerned about the outcome.

When you’re doing your plus/delta, if, like many of the rest of us, you tend to focus on what didn’t go well, force yourself to come up with at least 3 things that went well on the left side of the page.

If you tend to focus on what went well, congratulations! And ask yourself, “How could this go even better the next time around?” Put down at least 3 answers to that question on the right side of the page.

Doing this plus/delta exercise enables us to have a more balanced view of ourselves, our work, and our colleagues and their work. It helps us to stop and appreciate, however fleetingly, what is already going well so we can build on that success, and to consider how we can continuously improve.

Happy Thanksgiving!