One Tiny Negative Cancels a Positive Every Time

Obvious? Maybe Not

relationships button

In math, it takes two negatives to make a positive. It works differently with people. With people, one tiny negative, even one hidden away, can cancel a positive every time.

We can’t be mad and supportive. We can’t want to punish someone and hold them in our hearts while we do. That’s the reason we can’t tease someone we don’t like.

When we’re mad and try to be supportive, when we try to tease someone we don’t like, our negative feelings come through. They leak onto the positive message we think we’re passing on.

I used to believe that negative leak was the reason that the positive didn’t survive. It’s not the reason. It’s the effect.

Now, I believe it’s because when we hold a negative thought we’ve already chosen sides.

Even the tiniest negative makes it about me, not about where we might go.

Can you see how one tiny negative can cancel a positive every time?

–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz!!


  1. says

    I think you are right on here. However, I actually believe that the “tiniest little negative” will erase more than one positive (probably closer to 3-5 positives), which puts even more strain on us to ensure that we are staying positive. It goes back to my middle school days where I was taught that it takes 7 “warm fuzzies” to counter the effect of 1 “cold prickly”.

    For a different spin on it: I like how Don Clifton and Tom Rath talk about it in their book “How Full is Your Bucket.” They were researching productivity at the time, but they state that the “magic ratio” is 5:1. That is, productivity increases with 5 positive interactions to every 1 negative interaction.

    Thanks for a great post Liz. I think this could become a great conversation piece!

  2. says

    There are people I know who carry grudges forever. They’ll remember the tiniest slight that happened 10 years ago and allow it to affect the entire relationship forever. I sometimes wonder if these folks enjoy being unhappy on some level. I think if you set your ego aside a little bit and let things go, you’ll find a much deeper happiness.

  3. says

    @Brad – You’ve got a good point. There needs to be some responsibility on the part of the “receiver.” They are the ones that own their reaction. How much offense do they take? Do they let it get to them? Or, do they move on? I’ve got friends that have held onto things for years. When we finally hashed things out, the realization was made that the root cause was a misunderstanding of what was said in the first place, and the “hard feelings” really could have been patched up a lot sooner with a little communication.

    With that said, I think it’s still important that we remember that negative comments/interactions/etc, no matter how big or small, will have an effect on an individual. And, most of the responsibility needs to fall on the shoulders of the “giver.”

  4. says

    Liz, how do you think this might work in relation to the balance in our heads? For some of us pessimists it can be a bit of a raging battle at times, and I’d like to think that the positive thoughts had some secret or magical powers on their side so they’ll win in the end…

    Yours… optimistically? :-)


  5. says

    want proof?

    How many of us said, “did I say something Liz? I’m so sorry.” Even when we were sure you weren’t talking about us, but even unintentionally hurting you is the last thing we want to do.

    Oh yes, you are exactly right.

    (Oh, and you aren’t feeding my paranoia, I come by it naturally (and oh, don’t take this as being negative (please)))

  6. says

    Hi, Everyone!
    Wow! There’s so much in this conversation. I was only thinking of how I can’t be on two sides of a table at one time. . . .

    Yet you remind me that even when I put an idea out there from head to the page, there are so many ways that the words can be said and heard.

    I know my heart was positive when I spoke so it’s easy for me to explain. Imagine if I had a real (even tiny) negative thought in my head. Now I’d be wondering whether it was showing. . . . :)

  7. says

    Hi Eric!
    I know that 5:1 ratio. Those “cold pricklies” are part of my past too.

    I’m talking here about a negative that we may not have even fully defined and are trying our best to hide. We just have to let go of things that get between us or we can find that we’re doing damage that we never meant or even know about. :)

  8. says

    Hi Brad,
    So much of the negative stuff is in our minds. I agree with you there. Some folks do get a payoff from holding on to what bad things have happened. Grudges hurt the person who carry them.

    We’re so much lighter when we let them go. :)

  9. says

    Liz, in a learning community negatives can come through quick critiques of people who have new ideas to fix a very worn system. Critique often works to keep the establishment in place. Pioneer thinkers have to be very strong to bring any innovation to the fore. They have to keep positives in mind as they stand in front of many negative forces.

    Great post, Liz. You say it so well.

  10. says

    We also have to remember that one of our writing strengths–critiquing and editing–is a wonderful trait IN ITS PLACE. But when we inadvertently step over into our relationships with our wonderful critiquing/fixing mentality, it won’t be appreciated much! I have to consciously change gears at the end of a writing day and remind myself to keep the critiquing and editing for my work–NOT for the people in my life. That “fixer” mentality is a strength, as long as we keep it for our writing.

  11. says

    Hi Robyn!
    Thank you for your comment!
    In any community, the diversity makes us stronger, yet it’s the diversity that makes it harder for us to get along. It’s a lovely, tenuous balance that if we learn to manage it can make elegant things happen and beautiful relationships blossom between us. :)

  12. says

    Hi Kristi,
    It’s only recently, sad to say, that I’ve learned that everything I see doesn’t necessarily need to be fixed. Sometimes it’s just not “helpful” to offer help, especially when we hardly know the person we’re offering it to. :)

    Your points are all said so well. Thank you for saying them so much better than I just did. :)

  13. says

    Through my life I have enjoyed many blessings most consider success~ I couldn’t agree more that one of the tiniest negatives can ruin any dream anytime~ Further, the sooner one removes any negative reactions to, or from, and thinks everything through before deciding to continue with negative thinking as well as negative (draining) relationships, the sooner one can move onto a much more rich and joyful life!

  14. says

    Hi Terry!
    Welcome. Thanks for coming!
    What a good point you add to the conversation.

    Once tried to hold on to a relationship that only made me feel low. When I’ve finally realized that I was getting pulled down by one and said “adios” in the kindest way . . . the relief to my life was amazing.

    It confuses me why we let negatives hang in our lives that way.

  15. says

    After reading my post again, I realized how very different I meant the relationship scenario, yet how so too it applies seemingly to ‘all’ relationships, including the ones some have with diet, habits, behaviors/reactions, etc. 😉
    I was particularly referring earlier to ‘friends’ , associates, possibly relatives, or any of the ‘potential dream robbers’ of dis belief currently in your world. Surrounding ones self with courageous believers is a sure way to set a pathway to succeed, at least I believe 😉 Since we all have those choices we only have to exercise them~

  16. says

    wow, Terry!
    You’re right about all kinds of relationships.
    I’m struck by this sentence Surrounding ones self with courageous believers is a sure way to set a pathway to succeed . . .

    courageous believers. I so like to think of my friends like that.

  17. Rocky says

    You are absolutely right.I believe that one tiny negative can do more than cancel a positive, it can ruin whole relationships. It is often the little things that make the biggest impact. That little negative often leads to the biggest hurt. If we could only learn to control the little negatives we could avoid a lot of unnecessary problems. Great little post with so much potential spinoff topics.

  18. says

    Hi Rocky!
    Yeah, we do a world of good when we let those little things go by with the breeze. It’s getting easier as each day comes to me. I like leaving the negatives behind. The results when I do are inevitably more positive.

    A paper cut can hurt a lot, even an accidental one. :)

  19. says

    Gosh, Edrei,
    I’m so sorry. With the upgrade to 2.3, I had some significant problems talking to the server for a few hours there.

    Darn, you always say such insightful things — there’s always a thought I didn’t think before I read your comment.

  20. says

    Love this topic! Thank you for raising it. Just lately, I’ve noticed all the negatives that I’m tempted to speak are based in some fear or other. My partner has learned to catch me at the beginning of a rant and ask: “What are you afraid of?” Stops me in my tracks and gets me straight to to bottom it what’s driving me. Am starting to think we – I? – are deeply binary: I’m either opening to love and compassion or away from fear.

  21. says

    Hi Liz!
    I agree. Any time that I start to put a negative spin on things, it’s because I’m turning over power and control to someone other than me. I’m making them more, larger, better, bigger, and important than I am. :)

    When I endow that someone with humanity, life becomes easier again.

  22. says

    Oooo – you’re giving me goosebumps, Liz.

    I’m seeing a whole cycle in what you wrote: An event occurs, I give away power, scare myself with how vulnerable I’m feeling, then get negative or angry to defend myself.

    Thank you for putting the puzzle together in one elegant sweep. I think it will make me cycle faster, then less often.

    An unexpected discovery in all this is how often it’s me who I need to endow with humanity. When I drop the robo-human, perfectionista act, it’s la dolce vita.

    I’m planning on joining the open mic on Super Tuesday. I loved it the week I joined in (socnets). Besides, no one should have to be alone when listening to primary election returns. Thanks for all you do – I’m becoming a fan.

  23. says

    Hi Liz!
    Yeah, some of it was just breaking the habit of going to the negative. Some it was just getting mad at what I was doing to myself. Some of it was deciding that I DO belong on the planet.

    A BIG some of it was, heck after a couple of houses fall on you, what else can they do to ya? Bring it on!!!

    I’m a fan of yours too. :)

  24. says

    So true! I wonder if it’s more true in our heads? Negative thoughts seem to overshadow our positive ones and sometimes last longer. I see negative people and although they might be positive for a while they go back to negative. A positive person bounced back faster but it can take them time to bounc back from a negative word/thought.

    Not sure if that makes sense or not…rambling I guess. :-)

  25. says

    Hi Aruni!
    I think I agree that it’s something that happens in our heads. What I hear you saying is that maybe the negatives for chemical or psychological reasons have more sticking power.

  26. says

    Hi Liz – had to go silent for awhile to metabolize what you said. The whole idea of letting people be human (esp. me, as I’m a people), hit me like a depth charge. Ya know how sometimes it’s just what you need in just the right spot at just the right time? That was the effect your responses had on me.

    I think being human is some of what you mean by deciding you belong on the planet, yes? In all your humanity and just as you are, rather than not until you’d undergone significant improvements. That’s what I’m looking at now – letting our human selves be acceptable as they are. This is new for me. And, I notice from that place, negativity is counterproductive.

    I’m deeply grateful for your generosity, Liz. Thank you.

  27. says

    Hi Liz,
    When I wrote this just four days ago, I had no idea that it would resonate with folks. I was sharing a thought I’d been thinking and testing for the last few months . . . now that I was sure that it was true, for me, anyway.

    And here we are talking about belonging on the planet, about being human. Who doesn’t want that? We all felt picked on in school. We’re all ugly ducklings in some way.

    Just this morning, I told someone that not long ago, I just decided that from that moment I belonged. No bugles, no graduation, just a simple decision of giving up the old way that I looked at myself.

    And you know what? People around me got a whole lot nicer when I got a whole lot more comfortable here. :)

    Thank you, I can’t wait to meet you.

  28. says

    Great thoughts you put out Liz, and everyone! Thoughts become things. Positive thoughts become positive manifestations in reality~ There is a Universal Amplification going on 24/7, focus on positive, speak/glorify positive, and that’s what you’ll get back tenfold/and up. :)

    …remember, every single human ever born on this planet came originally as a naked baby~

  29. says

    Hi Terry!
    Great to see you here!
    I do believe that we see what we look for. I also believe that positive people attract positive things.

    I’ve added a “catch valve” on my thoughts that kicks in whenever I start to lean negative — immediately I tell myself that only positive “get something done” thinking will make a difference and banish the negative thoughts. :)

  30. says

    Hi Liz – how/when did you decide that you belonged? How did you do that? What prompted it? I’m curious…what triggered that decision?

    Once you made that decision how did you stop yourself from looking back (other than the “catch valve” you mentioned above)?

  31. says

    Hi Aruni!
    It was a thought process. I simply looked at the fact that everyone feels different . . . folks have been telling me how they felt different in school; everyone has stories of being picked on; everyone wants to belong. Finding patterns like that is what I do.

    Then I think about them and wonder how I might use them to be better so that I can help more.

    In this case, I realized that deciding I belonged was just the same as deciding I didn’t belong. If I could do the second, I could surely do the first. . . . And I just decided to see myself in a new way, as a person who belongs on this planet because I have something to do here that no one else can do.

    When I doubt, I remind myself of the conversation, thought, and logic that brought me to the decision of belonging in the first place. I have decided that the universe wants me. A person or two who don’t really can’t add up to the power of that. :)

  32. says

    Aruni, I’m so glad you asked Liz that question. And, Liz, thank you for your clear answer. This whole conversation has been enormously helpful to me, like a shot of personal growth rocket fuel.

    I responded to Christine Kane’s challenge to go complaint-free in November, 2007 and never suspected that complaining and negativity might be rooted in not allowing myself to belong here. But that seems to be the case. I’m either patrolling the entrance to the clubhouse, or inside, enjoying the party. I’m coming in.

    Thanks so much Liz – what a journey over the last few days. Just finished blogging about it.

  33. says

    Hi Liz!
    That’s it! We have a choiceto believe either that we belong or that we don’t. It’s not as if anyone esle has held a meeting, sat down and decide, put out a decree.

    We actually fight for our own standing to be someone who doesn’t belong. Pretty silly when you think about how we do that to ourselves. :)

  34. says

    Totally silly! Is this the title of your upcoming book, Liz: Silly No More: (your subtitle goes here).

    This is what seeing the word “silly” does to me, even in the middle of a truly profound realization/conversation. I hope that’s OK.

    I’m sillious about the book title though.

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