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  • Writer's pictureDrDavanaPilczuk

Great Teams: More Positivity, Less Contempt

Teams. We are all on them, part of them, even married into them. It’s how we get most things done in life. But sadly, we are rarely taught how to make them really awesome.

Too many of our experiences of being on a team are painful and emotionally draining. We lose our spunk to produce good results and end up retiring on the job or being passive bystanders, while others in the group ineffectively lead the way.

As someone who yearns to be on good teams, I will share two secrets on how to make your personal and professional teams amazing. You have to actively practice these techniques for the effects to kick in, but if you stick with it, the people you interact with will start to shine.

Stop showing contempt

Several years ago, I gave a talk to a group of 30 managers on helping their staff perform better. I asked them what concerns in particular they had with their team’s low level of performance. What followed was a litany of sarcastic remarks, eye rolls, comments on how “stupid” their employees were, and body language that screamed of disgust for the ones they lead.

After collectively laughing about their teams, they looked at me and asked, “So how do you fix those kinds of people?” To which I replied, “If you are comfortable showing me, a stranger, this level of contempt for those you lead, then I guarantee your people are feeling it as well. And I don’t blame them for not wanting to perform for you.”

Contempt is one of the most painful emotions you can express. It is a feeling of being on a higher moral ground than others and it is displayed through disgust, eye rolling, sharp sarcasm, and behaviors that are meant to let the other person know how low they are in your eyes. Contempt is also the most toxic behavior to teams. It kills marriages, friendships and all types of teams. Want a better team? Stop showing contempt.

Express positivity

John Gottman, a psychologist who studied high-performing marriages, found that the best relationships had a ratio of five positive behaviors for every one negative behavior. This means every time you roll your eyes in frustration (yes, that’s contempt, and yes, we all do it), you have to balance it out with five compliments, atta-boys, kudos, hugs (you get the picture). The reason being that the mean stuff we say and do sticks in our memory a lot longer than the positive things, so we have to quadruple the good stuff to drown out the bad stuff.

Think of a great couple you know or an awesome team at work. Closely watch how they interact. I bet you’ll see them laughing, patting each other on the back, complimenting and thanking each other. Positivity is the glue that keeps us together.

Practice with someone

The best way to improve is to find yourself a coach. Your BFF on the team will do just fine. Just pick someone you trust to be honest with you and call you out when you behave badly toward others, as well as praise you when you do well. One of my former teams made a deal to hold each other accountable for showing less contempt in meetings. Turns out, I was the biggest offender, rolling my eyes all over kingdom come. Without their honesty and my desire to improve, this blind spot would have continued to hurt me and others.

So make your teams awesome, starting today. Find the good in people and genuinely compliment them on it. Praise good deeds. Publicly recognize when people go above and beyond. Show gratitude for both the big things and the little things. And reign in your resentment. It isn’t helping.

A special thank you to my husband for taking care of so many of the things I don’t enjoy doing, like making dinner, helping the kids with their math homework and cleaning the cat litter. I appreciate you and will work on my eye rolling when you leave the lights on in the laundry room. Happy anniversary.

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