Bad Is Stronger Than Good: Evidence-Based Advice For Bosses

So, negative interactions (and the bad apples that provoke them) pack a real wallop in relationships at work and elsewhere. They are distracting, emotionally draining, and deflating. When a group does interdependent work, rotten apples drag down and infect everyone else. Unfortunately, grumpiness, nastiness, laziness, and stupidity are remarkably contagious.

My chapter in Good Boss, Bad Boss on “Stars and Rotten Apples” opens with the story of how I got to know a CEO named Paul Purcell. It was after his company, Baird, had landed on Fortune magazine’s list of the “100 Best Places to Work”. Fortune briefly explained, “What makes it so great? They tout the “no-a**hole rule” at this financial services firm; candidates are interviewed extensively, even by assistants who will be working with them.” Having written an entire book on that topic, I immediately contacted Leslie Dixon, their HR chief, and she introduced me to Paul Purcell. As I wrote in Good Boss, Bad Boss:

Paul told me that he had seen and suffered destructive assholes in past jobs, so when he got to Baird, he vowed to build a jerk-free workplace. When I asked how he enforced the rule, Paul said that most jerks were screened-out via background checks and interviews before they met him. But he did his own filtering too, ‘During the interview, I look them in the eye, and tell them, “If I discover that you are an asshole, I am going to fire you.”‘ He added, “Most candidates aren’t fazed by this, but every now and then, one turns pale, and we never see them again — they find some reason to back out of the search.” When I asked Paul what kinds of jerks are most poisonous, he said: “The worst assholes consistently do two things: 1.Put their self-interest ahead of co-workers and 2. Put their self-interest ahead of the company.”

Recently, I posted a list of 12 Things Good Bosses Believe. Now I’m following up by delving into each one of them. This post is about the tenth belief: “Bad is stronger than good. It is more important to eliminate the negative than to accentuate the psitive.”
Of all the tunes in the Johnny Mercer songbook, the most generally beloved must be “Accentuate the Positive” — whether your favorite cover is Bing Crosby‘s, Willie Nelson‘s, or someone else’s. Chances are that you yourself could summon up the chorus word for word (and click here if you want accompaniment).

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

It trips off the tongue so easily that you might not even notice that Mercer is telling you to do two things, not just one. Eliminating the negative, as any skilled leader can tell you, is not just the flipside of accentuating the positive. It’s a whole different set of activities. For someone with people to manage, accentuating the positive means recognizing productive and constructive effort, for example, and helping people discover and build on their strengths. Eliminating the negative, for the same boss, might mean tearing down maddening obstacles and shielding people from abuse.

Certainly, every leader should try to do both. Yet, given that every boss has limited time, attention, and resources, an interesting question is: which should take priority? A growing body of behavioral science research provides a pretty clear answer here: It’s more important to eliminate the negative.

The seminal academic paper here is called “Bad is Stronger Than Good” [pdf]. Roy Baumeister and his colleagues draw on a huge pile of peer-reviewed studies to show that negative information, experiences, and people have far deeper impacts than positive ones. In the context of romantic relationships and marriages, for example, the truth is stark: unless positive interactions outnumber negative interactions by five to one, odds are that the relationship will fail. Leer más “Bad Is Stronger Than Good: Evidence-Based Advice For Bosses”