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Mastering the dark art of positive spin could save your career

Integrity is incredibly important at work, so we should always seek to tell the truth and be honest in our communication.

There should be no place for bullshit in the corporate world. People can smell it a mile off and don’t want that stink on their suit. Being untruthful can have a catastrophic effect on your career. Saying you’ve done something when you haven’t is a dangerous path to tread and when you get found out, it’s likely to be curtains.

But have you noticed how some people can even make bad things sound good? How they make something boring sound interesting? How they make something normal sound exceptional?

This is the art of positive spin, and it’s a vital skill to have in today’s workplace.

Whilst it comes easier to those naturally upbeat and positive, it can be learnt, and should definitely be sought.

Negativity is a commodity traded frequently in most global organisations, but your boss and colleagues don’t want to hear bad news, problems, and issues. They are more comfortable dealing with facts, risks and opportunities (which are in fact the same thing, just dressed up differently). And they would positively enjoy hearing about good news and success. We all want to be associated with that.

To master this somewhat dark art is to acknowledge the facts but focus on positivity and make that the focal point.

Yes – the fact will always remain that something happened that shouldn’t have, or a project is ticking along but is damn boring. But what do you want to be remembered for? Someone who spreads negativity by focussing on what went wrong, or someone who remains honest but casts a positive light on those around them by highlighting what went well?

Think of a negative thing that’s happened recently at work. Now re-frame this to think about what good came of it. Your first reaction may be ‘nothing’, but dig a little deeper and you might find something that surprises you.

Did the team react quickly? Did the lessons learnt get captured and shared? Did someone surprise you with the work they put in? Have processes been updated to ensure it’s not repeated? Did you manage to exercise patience and remain calm under pressure? Did you get unexpected support or quick decisions from stakeholders?

These are the things that should be shared and celebrated. The things you need to highlight and re-iterate.

OK, time for some real life context. Let’s look at three specific examples.

Example 1, IT project delivery related. A small project has been initiated, and is moving into build. Some concerns are raised about the proposition and how operationally it will be handled, so the scope is reduced to the minimal viable product and build goes ahead. An initial release is done (with reduced functionality). 2 weeks later a change request is raised as a % of customers are unable to complete the sale. Within 4 days a couple of extra fields have been added to the form and the issue is resolved. 3 weeks later another issue is identified relating to some customers being able to apply for products they are not eligible for. A week later a small change is implemented to add a warning message when a customer applies for these products.

So far so normal?

Well it’s factually correct to say that –

A sub optimal process was implemented which resulted in multiple change requests to fix unexpected issues.

But it’s also factually correct to say that –

There have been 3 successful releases in 8 weeks. And each one offered further benefits to customers, such as reduced application time, reduced erroneous applications, reduced complaints, plus a higher conversion rate for the business. 

Which sounds better to you?

Example number 2, gossip related.

A programme manager is at the centre of some gossip, and due to working 9am – 5pm most days, plus taking time out for the gym during lunch, and working from home at least once a week (whilst still getting their work done) is being accused of ‘not doing much’, ‘having a cushy job’ and ‘coasting’.

In this instance it’s factually correct to say –

They are not always available when you need them.

But it’s also factually correct to say that –

They are actively seeking a healthy work / life balance and they are showing good time management skills.

Example 3, resource related.

A project is delayed by 6 months because it took 8 weeks to hire a new project manager, 3 months to identify stakeholders and get their sign-off on the scope, and 4 weeks waiting for a tester with subject matter expertise to finish a previous project.

It would be factually correct to say that –

The company did not set itself up for quick delivery due to a lack of pre-planning. The delay was frustrating and could have been avoided. The company lost revenue as a result of not having people in place to deliver the project sooner.

It would also be factually correct to say that –

Some valuable lessons have been learnt as a result of the initial delay. Now they are known, steps will be taken to avoid a repeat in the future so that the department can continue to improve the speed at which it can implement new and exciting initiatives. 

This acknowledges the fact that there was a delay, but brings your attention to what’s been done as a result, and the positive outcomes that will come from it.

Are you ready to start practicing this skill today?

A word of warning – there is a fine line here, so be mindful to not over do it.

A polished turd is still a turd. A sheep dressed in wolves clothes will still end up as lamb chops, but this can be a fun game to play and can transport you from being a chump to a champ.

You may still be wondering ‘how can this save my career?’, well a whole bunch of studies have been documented that prove that:

  1. Positive work environments outperform negative work environments (Daniel Goleman)

  2. Positive, optimistic sales people sell more than pessimistic sales people (Martin Seligman)

  3. Positive leaders are able to make better decisions under pressure (

  4. Positive people are able to maintain a broader perspective and see the big picture which helps them identify solutions, whereas negative people maintain a narrower perspective and tend to focus on problems. (Barbara Fredrickson)

  5. Positive people have more friends at work which is a key factor of happiness and career longevity. (Robert D. Putnam)

  6. Positive and popular leaders are more likely to garner the support of others and receive pay raises and promotions and achieve greater success in the workplace. (Tim Sanders)

Oh and as a bonus here’s an extra important one:

  1. Positive people live longer (Sonja Lyubomirsky)

In one study researchers interviewed men who had had heart attacks between the ages of thirty and sixty. Those who perceived benefits in the event (i.e. put a positive spin on it) seven weeks after it happened—for example, believing that they had grown and matured as a result, or revalued home life, or resolved to create less hectic schedules for themselves—were less likely to have recurrences and more likely to be healthy eight years later. In contrast, those who blamed their heart attacks on other people or on their own emotions (e.g., having been too stressed) were now in poorer health.

Yes, it can be hard to be upbeat when bad things happen at work. When the brown stuff hit’s the fan and you are at the end of a pointed finger life can feel pretty down.

But if you can focus on the bigger picture, possible benefits, and positive outcomes that may come out of it then you will be going a long way to saving your career, and maybe even your life.

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