Negative Synergy!?!?

Yes I’m actually on schedule two weeks in a row (I know… it’s scaring me too!) Things are once again moving in a forward direction and the family is more or less healthy.

Due to an upcoming book project and some behind the scenes projects I have been reading Stephen R Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. There is a lot of good information in there (that actually works if you apply it correctly). In particular I ran across an idea that is (I think) actually underplayed in the 6th habit: Negative Synergy.

A lot of us have heard of the idea of synergy, the idea that in the correct situation 1+1 can equal more than two. Some of us have even had the blessing of actually experiencing synergy. Others (who are usually the ones who are dismissive of the idea) think they’ve done something synergistic, but didn’t quite get there. In spite of the skeptics synergy (when it works) is good, mostly…

In reading seven habits I hit a term that was a bit of an eye opening revelation for me, negative synergy. If synergy means one 1+1 can equal more than two, then isn’t is possible that this applies to negative things as well? It explains so much, like how you or I and a child/partner/loved one that we really value can start off in a simple disagreement and end up in a truly nasty and hurtful fight.

As I think about the behavior I’ve seen (and lived) I can see this happening. The simple disagreement moves away from the initial conflict point and shifts into “I need to win” territory and “winning” becomes the focus; even though it may mean losing in the long run.

The thing that makes negative synergy difficult to deal with is that it is really (at least a little bit) inherent and naturally occurring. Synergy (positive synergy) takes effort to create, both in the moment and in the setup. Sure, it takes off and can run really well, but you have to do the work and setup to get there. Negative Synergy can easily feed of naturally occurring parts of who we are.

When I say negative synergy feeds off part of who we are I am not calling us bad people. In the deep core of our minds, back in the ‘lizard section’ of the brain, is a set of self-monitors that tell us things like “I’m hungry”, “I’m scared”, or “that hurts”. It’s pretty easy to tell people that don’t have that part of the brain (they’re the dead ones…). The rest of us need to learn about and control that part of us. We need to be aware of our needs, but if we want to be successful above the two year old level we need to learn to control those needs and we need to learn how to take other perspectives.

I’m not saying we have to give away the store (that’s lose/win not win/win), but we have to rise above being fixated on what we want right now. ‘Target fixation’ on our own desires is the easiest way to create negative synergy and make 1+1 equal more than two in a bad way.

Creating actual (positive) synergy is a fairly high level skill. You have to do the work to get there. One of the steps in getting there is learning to control the selfish aspects of ourselves that lead to negative synergy.

I’m not entirely sure of the whole road dear reader, but I know as I seek the good and reject the bad I grow stronger. And so, dear reader, can you…

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