Why is it that a single negative comment can ruin your day—even if it was otherwise good? And how come, even if your performance review is overwhelmingly positive, it’s the one “area of improvement” that sticks in your mind?
Turns out, you’re not overly sensitive—it’s just the human condition. Scientists have found that our brains place a lot more emphasis on negative comments than they do on positive ones. If you want to get all academic, it’s called “negativity bias.” And what it means is that even if you receive a ton of compliments (“Your presentation was great!”), you’ll probably get stuck on the one negative remark in the bunch (“Slide 10 was pretty confusing”).
The good news is, you’re not just stuck with those bad thoughts perpetually swirling around in your head—there’s a research-backed way to offset the negativity.
Entrepreneurs Sean McCabe and Ben Toalson recently said that for every 10 hours of negativity in your life, you should have 50 hours of positivity. Or, to put it simply, for every one negative comment you receive, offset it with five positive ones. (Though, this is more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule—for example, some people might need 10 positive compliments for every one mean comment.)
So, how can you control that?
It’s surprisingly easy, actually. Increase the number of optimistic and helpful people in your life, while ridding yourself of those who always leave you feeling badly. The more positive people surrounding you, the more positive feedback you’ll get. That’s basic math. And while you shouldn’t banish everyone who criticizes you, you can seek out people who understand how constructive feedback works.
Now, of course you can’t fire your negative co-worker who always finds a flaw in your work. But you can make an effort to avoid her when possible, while also spending time with the more uplifting people on your team. After all, they’re the ones you want to keep around.