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The Negativity Bias

Author: James Barton

It’s not hard right now to find bad news. I am not sure you can turn on the TV without being bombarded by negativity.


The sad truth is that as humans, we are programmed to respond to bad news. It becomes a focus and something we get addicted to. 


It’s postulated that this comes from the survival instinct to avoid bad things (people, food, carnivorous birds etc.) and our ability to identify and spread bad news was paramount to our living.

So, what has this got to do with sales enablement?

Great question! I could go down the line about wellbeing and ensuring we stay positive and how that changes our outlook and success, but I won’t… not this time anyway. Instead, I want to look at how this negativity bias is impacting our sales enablement programs.


In many organisations, sales enablement is measured. It can be simple or complex but there are nearly always some metrics.


This is good best practice, sure, but what tends to happen is that we end up focusing on the bad results rather than focusing on the positive elements. Our instincts are to go to the bad and try to eliminate it.

Again, what’s wrong with that?

Too often, this is done at the cost of growing or even just maintain the good. Where we have limited resources, our negativity bias means we spend a disproportionate amount of time on trying to fix the bad, rather than boosting the good.


In Mentor Group, we often show a bell curve regarding sales performance. 10% are poor performers, 10% are outstanding, and 80% are ok. The trick, in our belief, is to focus on moving the 80% up by just a few per cent and to do this regularly.


This process of continuous improvement follows the same line of thinking as the law of marginal gains.


Little gains, done regularly turn into huge improvement. It’s just like compound interest, Einstein’s true miracle.


Our propensity to focus on the negative, however, will often see sales enablement programs focused on a negative metric and trying to fix one of these areas, which then stops the great stuff.

In conclusion…

To fix this, it’s up to us as enablement professionals to sit back and look at the entire picture and look to focus on the good as well as the bad.


To be clear, I am not saying we just ignore bad news; we need to look at it with balance and assess the impact of enablement dollars being spent to fix a negative rather than enhancing or maintaining the good.


Stay positive… let’s make a difference.