The Power of the Positive

I was lucky enough to watch the movie Selma recently. In my view, a great tribute to the civil rights struggle in the deep south of America during the mid-1960s.

I have also watched another film recently. Not a movie but a documentary that was made in the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr’s murder just a few years after the Selma marches took place. It’s called A Class Divided. I first watched it many years ago and, for me, the documentary still remains compelling and relevant.

The documentary focuses on a school in Idaho and how Jane Elliott, a teacher of third grade children, ripped up her lesson plan in the wake of King’s murder and delivered sessions to her children that dealt with discrimination in an experiential way.  I won’t spoil your viewing but the video illustrates just how negative views can snowball into discrimination, bullying and even worse. The video shows how the teaching was then taken into offenders’ institutions. The outcomes, this time with adults, were equally profound.

Watching this documentary is highly recommended. It lasts around 55 minutes.


We know that dealing with discrimination is critical at an ethical level. However, the documentary highlights how those groups that ‘were on top’ learned better than those who were in groups ‘at the bottom’.  After the two groups were brought together their learning improved.

On our performance coaching courses and workshops we make a point of not criticising. We ban all negative feedback. Yes, we do address performance issues, however our approach is very much about questioning in a constructive way, asking for options and offering suggestions,. The results are amazing. The people being coached feel that they are free to learn and make mistakes. The coaches enjoy the coaching because they’re working in true partnership. Relationships are bonded.

Very often criticism is about the person delivering the negative feedback rather than the person receiving it. Very often the criticism is inaccurate or even incorrect. Making people feel bad is destructive.

We believe that positive feedback builds confidence. Focusing on the positive delivers far better results. Relationships develop. It’s not the power of the putdown that works. It’s the power of the positive that works.

Paul Beesley, senior consultant, Beyond Theory

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