Posted by: Ron Loza | September 7, 2011

The Power of the Negative Message

I often hear stories of, and read articles on, companies struggling to get employees ‘buy in’ to the company or obtain ‘loyal’ customers.  In some cases this can be as simple as poorly communicating the mission or vision of the organization but more often it is hidden (or not so hidden) messages being sent on a daily basis.

One of my favorite examples is from the now defunct CompUSA. Being a techno junkie I was excited to visit one of their new stores, I was so excited because I am a techno junkie. As I walked through the front door I entered a vestibule (I refer to it as the “frisking room”). To my left was a security guard sitting on a stool, directly in front of me was a sign with ten, or so, bulleted items such as ‘we reserve the right to search your backpack’ and other such nonsense. Before I could step one foot into the store (the next set of doors) I felt as if I was entering a prison. The leadership of CompUSA managed, in less than 20 seconds, to completely ruin my shopping experience with their negative messaging. Can you guess the attitude of the employees?

Flash back to the early 1970’s, a company by the name of Good Guys opened a big box (by the standards of the 1970’s) stereo and TV store. The employees, mostly audiophiles, knew their product well. They were invested in the product and the company and were given the latitude to haggle with prices. While the haggling was unusual, the service they provided was exceptional. The company eventually sold and has since closed but the original company left an impression on me that has lasted over 30 years. Needless to say, I purchased all of my stereo equipment from the Good Guys for years.

Think of your organization and think about the message you are sending to your team. Your team will ‘buy in’ if you are passionate, engaging, accessible, knowledgable, and communicative. If you work from an office, do you close your door? Not accessible, negative message.

Are you the COO of a retail organization? Look around your store(s); how many times do you see the word “no” or the words “we don’t?” No shirt, no shoes, no service; we do not accept $100 bills; we don’t accept checks; no refunds; no returns; no children without adult supervision; or my personal favorite, “closed.” These are all negative words that subliminally place bad feelings in the subconscious mind of your customer.

Even our most powerful leader struggles with negative messaging. While 12% of our country remains unemployed and the economy remains stagnant, President Obama goes on vacation. In reality, there is little he can do to change things by being at the White House but by going on vacation and using taxpayer dollars to fly his family he creates a perception that he doesn’t care about the country (his employees –  Congress and customers – voters). Now he has a problem with employee buy in, and customer loyalty.

Negative messaging is prevalent in our society and not always obvious. Think about a grocery store with eight cash registers, three are open, and you are standing in line behind two other people. This inadvertently creates a bad feeling because you know they have the capacity to eliminate the line but by not opening another register you have to wait.

What can you do to fix this?

1) Get rid of signs that are negative. Instead of not accepting $100 bills use “We gladly accept bills up to $20.”

2) Open your office door. You won’t get interrupted as much as you think and it creates the impression you are accessible. (Does not apply to HR while disciplining an employee – this is done in private)

3) Walk around at least once per day (good exercise) and say hi to your staff. Use this opportunity to coach – positive coaching. Don’t find fault, rather point out the good and ask if there is anything you can do for them.

4) The most important thing of all, every single day, tell at least one member of your staff or a customer THANK YOU. Be sincere and specific with your staff. “Thank you for sending those reports on time. You did a nice job formatting the graphs.” Positive reinforcement goes a long way.

Share your examples of negative messaging, post your solution(s), or you have an issue you’d like to solve, please comment and I will respond.


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