EmotionsMany of the personal traits that we think of as negative are not inherently negative, but negative in certain situations only. This means that, with an appropriate shift in perspective and situation, a seemingly negative trait can produce positive performance.

Being able to turn negative traits into positive performance is both empowering for the person involved and incredibly enabling for any manager looking to realize the full potential of their talent in this talent-starved climate. You just can’t afford to let untapped potential pass you by.

Below, I outline four negative traits that should not necessarily be seen as problems, because with good management, they can be turned into positive performances.

1. Introversion

Introversion is often viewed as a negative and disempowering trait in an world seemingly dominated by extroverts. That being said, this study from a group of business-school professors found that this supposedly negative trait can actually lead to more positive performances in leadership situations. The authors of the study found that introverted leaders tended to listen more carefully and show greater receptivity to suggestions, meaning they were more effective leaders of vocal teams.

2. Boredom

No one likes to see a worker just sitting there, looking bored. It’s generally a sign of disengagement and an indicator of an unproductive lethargy that can be contagious if not controlled. On the other hand, research from the University of Limerick indicates that the existentially bored are so tired of the repetition of their lives that they are more stimulated to search for better ways to get things done than their more contented counterparts. Can you turn an individual’s boredom to your and their own advantage by challenging them to strive for innovation?

3. Messiness

This study from Adecco shows that most workers judge their coworkers according to how clean or dirty their desks are. To some people, a messy desk can suggest a lack of organization and/or effectiveness.

On the flip side of Adecco’s findings is a study from the Carlson School of Management, which found that subjects operating in a more disorderly workspace were more creative than those working in ordered spaces. There is a good chance, then, that untidy individuals operating in chaotic workspaces are potential fonts of creativity and innovation. The messiness may actually be signs of their achievements.

4. Pessimism and Cynicism

Many consider optimism to be the best state of mind for business. One study found that 80 percent of CEOs are “very optimistic.” Generally, we revere optimism in the hiring process while frowning on pessimism and cynicism. While research shows that optimists thrive in jobs that require resilience and perseverance, there are also plenty of instances in which optimism doesn’t help. For example, studies show that optimistic entrepreneurs’ ventures tend to grow more slowly and bring in less money (see the first link in this paragraph for more on that).

We should also note that workers who never worry tend not to perform as well as those who worry from time to time. The main reason why defensive pessimists perform well is because they use their negative anxiety to imagine worst-case scenarios and prepare for those possibilities, rather than just winging it.

As you can see, pessimists and cynics can perform just as well as — if not better than –optimists in many situations. It makes sense to me that a competitive and ambitious company should have a healthy balance of both defensive pessimists and strategic optimists. Leaders should see the value of defensive pessimists and call on them to check the sanity of risky, off-the-wall ventures.



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