Advisors: Find the Positive in the Negative


Don’t automatically assume people are acting with malicious intent or out of ignorance. Instead, default to giving people the benefit of the doubt.

  • Look for opportunities to focus on the positive, even in challenging circumstances.
  • Encourage people by articulating what you’re seeing and complimenting them when you can.
  • Choose to not emotionally engage in the ubiquitous acrimony prevalent in today’s culture, and don’t let it dictate how you interact with others.

Related: Make It About Value, Not Price


Don’t automatically assign people malicious intent or ignorance.

Instead follow the advice that Mr. Rogers’ mother set for him: “Whenever you’re in a negative situation, look for the helpers.” Look for the positive side of the situation.

I was in the post office the other day mailing content to our advisors, and there was a mum with three little children in front of me, making her way towards the counter. . .

And, as she moved forward, her daughter—who would have been probably three years old—mentioned, as she looked up to the pen on the desk, “Why do these pens have chains on them?”

Now, my mind immediately went to, “Because people steal these pens, kid. As quick as looks, they’ll take ’em with them,” which is a little on the harsh side!

The mum turned around and said, “Well,” and she thought about it and then went on to say, “sometimes people just get so busy filling out the labels of who they’re going to mail the parcels to, they sometimes just leave, holding the pens after they’ve given the mail to the lady that we’re about to talk with.” It was a really sweet response to a child who didn’t need to hear about people stealing anything that’s not nailed down.

You, too, want to be on the lookout for opportunities to at least think well of people, and compliment them, and be positive with them, whenever the circumstance and opportunity arises.

As a financial advisor, I know we had circumstances where people came in looking to do a financial plan, and it would have been really easy to think critical, negative things about them, if not actually verbalize those thoughts. A couple comes to mind where the husband, you could tell, had been deferring, had been procrastinating having this meeting with us. His wife really wanted to take this step, but he was really digging his heels in, but finally, he’d relented to sit with us this day. It really became obvious, pretty early on in the engagement, why he had not wanted to talk with us: he’d retired too soon, he’d tapped Social Security, and they were in a financial predicament that ultimately was going to mean they needed to sell their house within seven years and move out of the area.

On the surface, that seems like an incredibly negative circumstance, and it would have been easy to chide him for the choices he had made or at least think that, as far as, “Why didn’t you see this coming? Why didn’t you stay working for longer? Why didn’t you act a little more responsibly?” That would have been the effortless thing to be thinking. But, instead, we complimented them. We simply said, “This is a great time for you to have done this! Well done on taking this step of coming to see us.” The wife knew where the conversation was going, but before we got there—to tell the reality of the circumstances—we could compliment them on taking this action instead of waiting to deal with this five or six years down the road, where, at that stage, they’d only have one year to respond. Now they had a further six years up their sleeve and could plan accordingly. So, that’s how you can take a really negative situation, something dire to a lot of people, and turn it around and at least compliment the people for taking that action.

I want to encourage you to see the best in people. We live in a media-saturated world where the headlines are as negative as possible to grab our attention. Sadly, it’s what does get our attention quickest. However, you can provide some different perspectives. Choose to make your default to think of people positively and even let them know what you’re thinking with a compliment, when appropriate.

So to do this most effectively,

  1. Look for opportunities to focus on the positive. When you see circumstances that seem negative, remember there are at least two sides to most stories, and focus on the more positive one first.

  2. Articulate it. Tell the person what you’re seeing as a positive step they have taken. Compliment them on taking action now. Reward them for sitting in front of you and possibly hearing some bad news that’s coming. But now is a better time to hear their options for addressing a problem than one or two years down the track, when they will likely have fewer choices available.

  3. Don’t default to media-headline language. Sift and sort what you read and hear. Don’t let it influence how you’re going to work throughout the rest of your day. Keep it at arm’s length. Stay informed, obviously, but don’t let it control your actions, your motivation, and the tone that you take toward other people.

I look forward to bringing you another Distraction-Proof Advisor Idea next week.