Do you remember the last time something bothered you so much that you couldn’t get it out of your head? A troublesome thought can consume you and preclude you from thinking of anything else. It becomes paralyzing.
One way to resolve persistent, negative thoughts is to do something to symbolize the elimination of the source of the negative thought and associated negative energy. For example, you might write down your thought on a piece of paper and then tear it up or burn it to symbolize the destruction of what’s troubling you. Psychologists call it ritual cleansing.
Projects can benefit from ritual cleansing. Have you ever been in a meeting, for example, that gets derailed with negativity? These meetings become dominated by people who just can’t move past what won’t work and why, or who’s wrong and how?
Instead of instructing people to be positive or trying to manage it with ground rules, give stakeholders a means of ridding their minds of ideas you don’t want derailing your session. Institute a ritual cleansing of sorts. Provide a “place” to dispose, drown, or bury all of those negative comments and ideas so you can keep your meeting free of distractions.
Call it the Can of Can’t Do and place a can in the middle of the table and invite attendees to write their negative thoughts on a piece of paper, crumple it up and toss in the can. Name it the Lamentation Library and tell people to “check in” their negative ideas (no checking out). Maybe it’s a Cynicism Cemetery and plots are available for burial of unwanted thoughts. The Pessimism Pool – it’s bottomless. (OK, so you don’t have to go high camp with it, but you get the idea.)
Whatever you call it, designate a place for people to write comments that are negative or not constructive and allow folks to put their ideas in or on that place so they can get them out of their heads and get their heads in the real game of contributing ideas about what can be done and why it’s going to work.
This is not to suggest that all negative ideas should always be ignored. In fact, sometimes it’s the skeptic that alerts us to risks we hadn’t considered. But for a creative way to channel persistent and disruptive negativity, an occasional ritual cleansing may be just the thing your team needs.