Negativity In Training | Smiley Face, Positive Side of Negativity

Why You Should Introduce Negativity Into Your Training

If we listened to pop psychology adages, we would never introduce negativity into team training.

For example, a famous phrase of self-development leader Tony Robbins is “You are what you focus on.”

And in the big picture, he is right.

If you spend your time worrying about all the ways your team can drop the ball with a customer instead of how you are going to come together to deliver a great customer experience, guess what? You’re going to drop the ball.

If you spend your time focusing on everything that’s wrong with your life instead of what’s right, guess what? You’re going to be a miserable person.

Negativity In Training | Smiley Face, Positive Side of NegativityFocus. Matters.

While some have stretched the psychology of focus far beyond its boundaries and created the snake oil of “attraction,” the basic principle of focus is sound — for the most part, focus begets outcomes.

However, it is not only “The Secret” and its ilk who have taken focus too far. In the realm of training, the idea of focusing on positive outcomes has been used to create almost exclusively positive frameworks. Training programs often focus on good decisions and fail to address the many bad decisions that have been made in past situations or are likely to be made in future situations.

As the research below demonstrates, this strategy is not optimal.

From the book Yes!:

“Behavioral researcher Wendy Joung and her colleagues were interested in examining whether certain types of training programs would be more effective than others at minimizing errors in judgment on the job. Specifically, they wanted to know whether focusing the training on past errors that others have made would provide better training than focusing the trainees on how others had made good decisions in the past. They thought that training that focused more on others’ errors would be more effective for several reasons, including increased attention to the training and a more memorable training experience.

The researchers aimed to test their hypothesis on a group of people whose decision-making skills under stress were vital, and whose decisions carried important consequences; it’s not surprising that they chose firefighters.

In the study a training and development session that included several case studies was presented to the firefighters. However, the nature of the case studies differed between two groups of participants. One group learned from case studies that described real life situations in which other firefighters made poor decisions that led to negative consequences. The other group learned from case studies in which firefighters avoided negative consequences through good decision-making.

Joung and her colleagues found that firefighters who underwent the error-based training showed improved judgment and were able to think more adaptively than those who underwent the error-free training.

Despite the extensive behavioral research documenting the irrationality of human decision making, people still do possess critical thinking skills that enable them to learn from situations, and they can be better equipped to do so by being exposed to a range of possible decisions, both good and bad.

As much as we might want it to be, real-life customer service is not all unicorns and rainbows. Focusing our training not only on how to make good decisions but also on how others have made bad decisions is a winning combination for training customer facing reps who are prepared for the challenges of the real world.

What was the best training you ever received? Did it include both what should go right and what could go wrong?


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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