No News Isn’t Always Good News

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Published previously on LinkedIn.

We have several idioms in English that express the basic sentiment that in the absence of more information people assume the best. “No news is good news” and other similar truisms are only true for maybe 1/3 or less of the population (the optimistic extroverts). What we know about the temperament of different people in the workplace dictates our understanding of this principle. For the outgoing positive extroverts in the office, this is their default setting. With no additional information, they will almost always assume the best. For them, the saying is pretty accurate.

But, for the rest of us, it’s different. We all live along a continuum between optimism and pessimism. Some see the glass half-full, others half-empty and many fall somewhere between these two poles. For those on or toward the pessimistic side of the equation, no amount of encouragement to embrace positive psychology will actually change our primary disposition, nor should it. In fact, one of the strengths of those on that side is their ability to see potential problems in our team strategies, to poke holes in our concepts that need to be poked. Pessimism is actually a strength to be leveraged.

The people on this side of the fence can be variously described. Mostly, they tend to be more introverted. Introverts tend to be deeply analytical and logical people that have a knack for seeing potential problems. They tend to be deep thinkers and prone toward introspection. Though they at times look quiet on the outside, not so on the inside. Lots of inner dialog is typically going on, with or without your input. So, why do you need to think about this reality?

As we communicate or fail to communicate with others around us, this principle is always in play. Those you work with that are on the pessimistic side of the continuum or even in the middle will read different content into the vacuum of your silence. The assumptions they infer will tend not to assume the best, but often the opposite. Being mindful of this reality, this aspect of the relevant ways people on the team are different, sets you up for greater success. For those on the team that are more ambiverted or introverted, you ought to be aware that “no news isn’t good news.” One of the keys to effective leadership and team health is what I call the practice of timely communication.

How long does it take you to respond to questions from introverted team members? How are they interpreting your silence? Can you shoot them an email telling them what you know now with a promise of additional information to come? What things are you assuming they know that might need to be clarified and made explicit for the benefit of them and the whole team?

We know from science that human beings, in general, have a natural bent toward negativity. We know what we don’t believe or like more strongly in terms of brain response than what we do. The ratio needed for teams to be healthy emotionally is recommended as no less than 5 positive emotional experiences to 1 negative. Knowing that the default switch for many is leaning toward negativity, what can you do to increase the emotional health of your team by practicing timely communication?

Timely communication is respectful to everyone on the team. It does not leave team members hanging, waiting for needed feedback or direction. That is why I teach this as one of ten parts of a strategic communication plan that healthy teams implement. If you’re going to err in either direction, my encouragement would be to err on the side of over communicating in a timely manner. Your half-empty teammates will thank you for it.

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