How to Overcome Negativity Bias
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Advisors are kind, compassionate and caring. You’re also persevering and agile. You’ve beaten back the robos. You’ve smoothly transitioned from focusing solely on investments to holistic wealth management.
You’ve made clients feel comfortable dealing with mega-firms, by preserving personal relationships.
While facing unrelenting fee pressure, you’ve maintained not only your level of fees, but (for the most part) the AUM-bundled fee structure.
These are no small feats. But don’t rest on your laurels.
This isn’t another article on what’s likely to happen to your industry. I don’t have a clue.
Rather, it’s about the one group who you routinely abuse in a cruel yet unintentional way and the devastating effects of your conduct.
Unless you make some significant adjustments, your livelihood faces a threat you can’t overcome.
What’s that group?
I recently gave a talk to a large group of investors. The sponsor sent me the raw feedback from attendees. I received very high marks…with one notable exception.
An audience member didn’t like me or my message. His review was scathing and very personal. I will spare you the details.
By the time I read his review, I had seen at least 100 positive ones, but they made no difference. I couldn’t get these negative comments out of my mind. I obsessed over them.
Then I recalled advice given to me by a psychiatrist many years ago: “A 90 is still an A.”
I still think about that advice.
Our negativity bias
Neuroscientists have long identified a “negatively bias” that causes us to overreact to negative events. That’s precisely how I reacted to the negative comment of this audience member.
We all have this tendency. It’s programmed into our brains. Studies (discussed here) have found the brain reacts more strongly to negative than positive stimuli. This explains why we have a “bad news bias.”
Harmful impact of negativity
As a group, you have very high expectations for yourself. The closer your standard is to perfectionism, the more likely it is that you engage in “unrelenting self-criticism and negative self-evaluation.”
High levels of self-criticism is “encountered in clients who are dealing with psychological difficulties such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, personality disorders, suicide, and interpersonal problems.”
Being self-critical can have a particularly pernicious impact on your career. The results of five separate studies found “a consistent pattern of negative association between self-criticism and goal progress.”
Another study examined the relationship between self-criticism and goal progress of athletes and musicians. It found those with high levels of self-criticism represented “a risk factor in the pursuit of personal goals.”
Overcome negative bias
The initial step to overcome negative bias is to recognize the issue. Identifying your reaction as a “bias” is a good first step.
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I’ve found a combination of meditation and the practice of gratitude have been very helpful. Meditation keeps me focused on the present, instead of agonizing over past mistakes or being anxious about future events.
The practice of gratitude compels me to recognize all the positives in my life, which helps put the negatives in context.
You can find other suggestions here.
You’re kind to others. Be compassionate to yourself.
Dan Solin is a New York Times best-selling author of the Smartest series of books. His latest book is The Smartest Sales Book You'll Ever Read. His sales coaching practice includes helping advisors convert prospects into clients and generating leads through videos and other elements of marketing. Dan is not affiliated with any advisory firm.
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