Everyone on the planet has had issues this year. And we’re not yet through the dark times. It’s so easy to focus on all the bad things. But the way you feel is hugely influenced by what you pay attention to. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to the good things making your glass half-full versus all that’s missing. Do this at work and at home – even if those two places are the same – with others and with yourself.

Glass half-empty at work

You know those people. You might even be one of them. Show them anything and they’ll tell you what’s wrong with it or how to make it better. They think they’re helping. For the most part, their intentions are positive as they break things down to build them up better. They may be right. But it still hurts.

And it doesn’t have to.

Glass half-full at work

Others lead with the positive. They tell you what works, what you’ve done well. Then they give you suggestions for how to make it even better. “Even better” feels much better than fixing “what’s wrong.”

Itemized Response

This is the heart of the itemized response I learned from Roger Neil when he was at Synectics:

  1. Ask questions for clarification
  2. Point out what’s strong and working well
  3. Suggest ways to make it even better

Asking questions for clarification demonstrates interest. Pointing out what’s strong and working well makes your audience feel appreciated which makes them more open to your suggestions.

Constructive criticism

Leading with the positive can be the difference between destructive and constructive criticism:

  1. Itemize merits and concerns
  2. Discuss how to retain the merits and eliminate concerns
  3. Summarize

The important point here is the balance of working with others to retain the merits of what they are doing or proposing while helping them eliminate concerns.


By definition, building starts with something good. Instead of trying to make that something even better or eliminating any concerns about that something, you’re just adding value.

  1. Acknowledge connection
  2. Add value: modify, add benefits, other applications, new ways to realize original intent
  3. Check back with idea owner to make sure you’ve preserved their idea

Acknowledging the connection to the starting point credits the owner’s contribution. Adding value is the heart of the build. The difference between modifying and criticizing is that you’re suggesting the modification instead of just pointing out the fault or concern. Checking back with the owner keeps them in charge as idea owner.

Glass half-empty at home

I know this will come as a shock to many of you, but the people in your homes have feelings too. While it’s often harder for them to quit than it is for the people you work with, they too can change what they choose to pay attention to. Shame on you if you’re not giving them at least as much support and confidence reinforcement as you give to the people you work with. Criticism hurts at home as well as at work.

Glass half-full at home

The same work techniques are applicable at home.

When someone in your home shares an idea or shows you something they’re doing, do your own itemized response. Ask questions to demonstrate your interest. Point out what’s strong to make them feel appreciated and then more open to your suggestions.

Make your criticism constructive by striking a balance to retain the merits of what they’ve got while helping them eliminate concerns.

Build on their ideas in a way that helps them retain psychological ownership of their ideas.

Seeing your own glass half-full versus half-empty

There are errors of commission and omission.

Focusing on the errors of omission is a path to despair. The number of great jobs we didn’t take, companies we didn’t invest in, horses we didn’t bet on is almost infinite. They’re all in the half-empty part of the glass.

Conversely, even the errors of commission gave you experiences to learn from. Pay attention to the job you did take, the company you did invest in, the people in your life. They’re in the half-full part of the glass. Be thankful for all of them. It will make them and you happier this Thanksgiving and beyond.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #673) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.