Daniel Taylor August 20 2021

Optimistic pessimist, pessimistic optimist or neither? Or both?

In this blog from Facet5 specialist Daniel Taylor, we explore our natural ability to be optimistic and ride the waves, or the sense of caution and apprehension we might have.

We’ve been dealing with the subject of business transformation over these past months.  Whether you’ve closed down premises, moved everybody to work at home, moved your entire business model online or had to flex with the rise and fall of constantly changing government guidelines, you will most likely have observed how differently people in your business can respond.

Lots have been written about the global pandemic and its effect on how we make sense of the world around us. It has tested our resilience, patience, flexibility and ability to persevere. Undoubtedly, it will also have taken an emotional toll on us.  What can we say then about how this interacts with our natural ability to be optimistic and ride the waves, or the sense of caution and apprehension we might have?

Now let’s clear one thing up, to begin with. When we discuss Emotionality as a factor, it often ties people up in knots as to why we might consider high Emotionality (>7.5) pessimistic and low Emotionality (<3.5) optimistic. If we consider the subfactors of Emotionality, specifically Apprehension, we know when it’s a high score an individual could well be of a more cautious nature. Caution is a strength and will drive our ability to sense dangers and mitigate for them. In the context of business transformation, this could manifest in a number of ways; the need to make things the best they can possibly be, sensing all the pitfalls and having plans in place, or vigilance and not making too many assumptions. If I were planning my business’ next major move, I would certainly want somebody with the ability to be this responsive in my team…

So then, why pessimistic? In a certain light, all of the above strengths could either be overplayed or looked at through a different lens and become risks. If we have a high or low score in any of the factors, we will be aware of not just its strengths but also how we may need to adapt our behaviour, or learn new ones, to avoid overplaying it. This is our responsibility and can be aided by coaching and guidance. When other people observe and interpret our behaviour, they will do so through the lens of their own preferences which is why developing a collective understanding of Facet5 is also so important.

This explains why high Emotionality (Apprehension) might be seen as a bit negativist. We must be careful to interpret the behaviour and its intentions correctly. This is compounded by the fact that any criticism of appearing pessimistic will strike hard for somebody who also strives to be the best they can be and as a result is often quite self-critical!

But why then is low Emotionality associated with optimism? We know high Emotionality scorers to be vibrant, passionate and even charismatic people so why not them also? This might be the case BUT we need to look more closely at what it means to have low Apprehension. Think about what it means to be an optimist; unworried, relaxed, positive. Everything’s going to be just fine…In times of business transformation, we also need people like this, but they serve a different purpose. Sometimes it is important to have somebody who can keep a clear head when all around are losing theirs; it’s what many of us need to feel calm and know there is nothing to worry about. This is certainly the case with lower Emotionality scores; confidence will appear higher and in a crisis these people will respond with far less tension or emotion.

So then, all of this must sound great; what could possibly go wrong? On the face of it, optimism is an advantage but what are the risks? Some say that if you aren’t looking ahead and spotting pitfalls then you just aren’t looking hard enough. Lower Apprehension scores may not notice flaws in a plan or just simply be less alert to the sense that something could go wrong. We have seen both sides of what it means to be a pessimist, but optimism is also a double-edged sword. ‘Complacent’ or ‘too casual’ may be levelled at them, possibly even rash or overconfident. Those with less of a radar for risk will come across as more reckless and careless and so it is these elements that require managing.

It is important that those with low Emotionality are aware of their strengths and risks; in a similarly compounding way though you will often find that they often see themselves as a ‘done deal’ and unable to change. Feedback is important, nonetheless!

In this blog, I have attempted to outline one particular aspect of Emotionality which will have played out for us all over these past months. Because we are dealing with the emotions, it is important not to judge and to give everybody their own space to respond as they need to. Remember also that with extreme scores, there will be a knock-on impact to the rest of the profile meaning often that with high Emotionality, strengths may be enhanced but risks are also more likely. Conversely, with low Emotionality those strengths may be less apparent with most risks mitigated.

Good luck over the forthcoming weeks from me and the Team!

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