Negativity Bias

Blog - Negativity Bias

Picture of Lynda-Ross Vega Co-author of Unlock the Power of Your Perception and Your Talent AdvantageWhy are we so quick to see our shortcomings and not our gifts?

The answer is negativity bias.

Have you ever noticed how most people tend to register the bad stuff more than the good stuff? You’ve probably caught yourself doing it too. It’s pretty common to remember a negative experience more vividly than a positive one. That’s negativity bias in action.

This bias towards the negative isn’t because we live in cynical times; it’s actually something handed down to us from our very early ancestors who knew being alert for things that might harm them (i.e., negative things) was the difference between life and death. In today’s world, our brains naturally give priority to negative input over positive input.

Because of negativity bias, we hear and remember criticism and correction more acutely than praise and validation. We give negative feedback more weight and significance than positive feedback, and we tend to believe negative input to be more truthful about us.

Culturally, most of our performance feedback is driven by a stance of improvement and a striving to create “well-rounded” individuals. While on the face of it, this sounds like an admirable goal, in practice, it creates feedback systems that focus on what people lack.

Think about it. The typical report card from grade school to high school rarely says, “Johnny is great at music; he should do more!” Usually, those report cards highlight areas that need improvement and suggest tutoring or extra classes. From an early age, we learn to focus more on what we don’t do well in rather than celebrating and doing more of what we naturally do well in.

It doesn’t stop there. In the workplace, performance reviews often put the primary focus on areas that “need improvement” and those that “meet expectations.” Neither of those ratings ever makes you feel like doing more of what you are doing well.

Another thing to consider at work is the traditional performance bell curve rating system that many employers use.  The curve assumes that 70 percent of employees will perform at some level of “average,” 10 percent will perform “below average,” and only 20 percent earn performance ratings of “above average.” With this system, employees who are doing well become the “expected standard,” leaving little room for having their talents recognized as exceptional.

After years of practice with feedback pointing out what we should improve, we end up taking our natural talents and gifts for granted. And that enhances the inherent bias of humans to downplay those things that they do naturally well.

The things that come easily to us often don’t seem like any big deal because they are aligned with our Perceptual Style. They fit how we make meaning and take action in the world. They feel natural and congruent with who we are.

You have thousands of skills and abilities that are naturally yours because of your Perceptual Style. They represent your innate potential. You aren’t aware of all the natural skills and abilities you have. Sure, you might be confident about some of them because people often compliment you on them, and you listen. But you may not value others as special strengths because you dismiss them with the “everyone can do that” mindset, and still more, you just haven’t developed yet because you haven’t been in a situation that required them.

In any case, your natural skills and abilities are your unique gifts—the things you are destined to excel at if you choose.

The trap happens when we assume things that are easy for us must be easy for everyone. So, we discount our own talents and gifts, and instead, we focus on things we think we are missing or that we believe aren’t up to par. That’s the trap of negativity bias. It can create an unending cycle of dismissing our own gifts and constantly searching for what we think is missing that will make us happier.

The good news is, you can break your own cycle of negativity bias. It’s a simple process with profound results. All you need is a mindset shift, awareness, and some practice.

Here’s an easy way to get started. Choose a few friends or family members you trust and ask each of them to share with you two or three things they think you do really well that they admire about you.

There’s magic in asking for two or three things. If you ask for only one thing, people feel pressured to “get it right,” which can be stressful. If you ask for more than three, like four or five, it starts to feel like work for the other person. But two or three feels easy, and people are more likely to respond with what comes to mind first, which is precisely what you want to hear.

Now consider the feedback you receive. Own the compliments; think of times you recognize yourself doing those things well. Now when you do those things again, you’ll have a quick moment of awareness that you are using your strengths!

Please share your thoughts on this topic in the comment section below.

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About Lynda-Ross Vega

Lynda-Ross Vega is a partner at Vega Behavioral Consulting, Ltd. She specializes in helping corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, and individuals with interpersonal communications, team dynamics, personal development, and navigating change. Lynda-Ross is co-creator of Perceptual Style Theory, a revolutionary behavioral psychology theory and assessment system that teaches people how to unleash their natural strengths and build the life and career they dream of. For free information on how to succeed in business and in life doing more of what you do best, visit

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