The Upside of Negativity

When viewed from a strengths perspective, personality characteristics are neither good nor bad (or: they’re all good!) but fall on a spectrum depending on how optimally the strength is used. The Restorative strength, according to Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinders, is the problem-solving strength where individuals are talented at identifying and solving problems. A useful strength indeed and one that is essential for most households and organizations to be successful. Certain professions, such as law, law enforcement, maintenance and repair, biomedical sciences and research, are all about identifying and solving problems. What’s not to like?

But like all strengths, Restorative has its downside. When improperly used, this strength can cause people to be pessimists and negative.   It may not surprise you that pessimists tend to have lower life satisfaction and actually are less successful than optimists in almost every discipline except law (I’ll leave it at that). In addition, negativity, where someone complains or criticizes to excess, can be hard on relationships since no one likes a Debbie Downer or Negative Nelly (what are the male equivalent nicknames?).

Aristotle says that wisdom entails exercising the optimal use of our strengths. A wise person with the Restorative strength will therefore be adept at using positivity and optimism to offset their negative and naysaying tendencies. A measure of self-awareness is necessary to realize that one may be overusing or misusing a talent in one situation that is necessary and encouraged in others.   Therefore, I’m going to make a blanket request to all of us whose livelihood depends on solving problems: pay attention to how often and how long you complain, criticize or cast doubt.   What are people’s reactions to your efforts to problem-solve and -identify?

Even if others seem ok with the use of your strength, try switching to a more positive tack as soon as you catch yourself indulging your Restorative unnecessarily. Observe their reaction to that shift. Which do they respond most favorably to? On balance, which feels better to you? Are you using Restorative as effectively as possible?

The answers to these questions may or may not cause you to consider a change. But the advantage of Restorative is that you know that the questions are worth asking, regardless of the outcome. After all, detecting and solving problems in our own behavior is also worth it, isn’t it?