Breathing was challenging as my caller ID flashed a photo of my mother. The phone beeped and jiggled as I told my friend that I’d have to call him back — something wasn’t right. There she was — smiling, charming, alive — “mom” listed underneath.
Final goodbyes came choked and whispered eight months prior. But, there she was in living pixels on my screen — this was going to be a difficult birthday. I calculated and processed possibilities and, as I thought, it was her husband dialing from the house phone to continue her birthday-calling tradition.
In slow motion, it felt good to feel sad — that self-absorbed feeling when a client, loved one or employee disappoints. It rarely helps when someone suggests that it could be worse or that we’ll feel better soon. Those first efforts at being positive fall short.
Later that day, my friend KJ brilliantly reframed my thinking in an instant. We passed through the birthday niceties. Hearing about the “call” he said, “I think that’s great news. What a nice way to keep her memory fresh.” He wasn’t referring to anything supernatural or casting doubt on my perceptions. His view was that it was unusual and shocking but a great way to remember and be reminded of my lovely mom. He went directly to a positive. I realized it on the third attempt.
KJ is instantly positive like that. For the rest of us, we may need to take a couple of runs at it. I suggest going for the third positive. Trying to immediately think of something good coming from an unsettling situation will usually be awkward. Going for a second item starts building a useful habit of being more positive. The third item will often be your grand slam—something genuinely good about a bad or stressful situation.
If you’ve ever flown on a plane and forgotten your reading material, you’ve seen the ads for negotiation-skills courses. I recall a negotiating tactic called the third alternative or the third option. You continue discussing solutions until you get to a third option that meets the needs and interests of all parties.
The 1st Positive: You are still in a state of mild or major shock as you process a problem or challenge. Still, coming up with something positive is better than wallowing. This first one will most likely be trite and awkward.
The 2nd Positive: Here is where your mind settles and you know the issue probably won’t kill your business or ruin your life. Most individuals, teams and businesses can do this with more awareness than effort. It sets a good leadership example and is a great personal characteristic.
The 3rd Positive: Pay-dirt! You might have “stumbled” across a fantastic opportunity or a business-saving redirect of your strategy. When you get to the 3rd positive, savor it and integrate it into your process or strategy.
This method flushes your brain and body with good drugs. We all can recall people who bathe in negative and reek of toxins — hard to do business. Imagine interacting with someone who goes for a series of positives when all others race for the door. This kind of person heals families, bandages the start-up and cleans up after hurricanes.
Never push your positive attitude onto others — let them notice on their own. Your food choices may be vegan or gluten-free; your vehicle might win awards for carbon reduction; your groceries may be 100 percent organic — fewer people care than you think. They are focusing on their own personal or career issues. The third positive is to help you and your business to soar above complaining, pity-parties and victimhood. It’s called being a fully-functioning human being.
By next year, I’ll have my mother gently and respectfully retired from my phone. If she calls again, I’ll write a much different article.
Rick Griggs is a former Intel Corp. training manager and inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool. He speaks on balance, teams and the confidence of Napoleon. Reach him at 970-690-7327.