Top Skills of Great Mentors: Be in Their Corner

NeuroScience of Feedback Header

Top Skills of Great Mentors: Be in Their Corner

A mentor I spoke with recently said it best, “I strongly believe every single one of us needs someone who is solidly in our corner. That’s what I do for my mentees.”

While having a personal cheerleader certainly sounds nice, why might it actually be critical to our success?

The answer lies in understanding the negativity bias.

Ever feel like you’re really hard on yourself? Or witness a colleague frequently berate themselves over a small error? This isn’t just a personality quirk.

Barbara Fredrickson, a psychology professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studies how our brains literally pay more attention to negative thoughts than positive ones. This bias means we are wired to remember bad news more readily than good and focus on what isn’t going smoothly or how we have messed up.

While this bias served us well when our day-to-day survival depended on our being aware of the danger lurking everywhere, in today’s modern world, it has outlasted it life-saving use. And yet it persists.

Because our brains weigh negative situations disproportionately, we must work extra hard to notice positive situations and emotions. If we can do this, we actually have a chance to retrain our brains and experience more success.

Study after study ties a happy, successful life to overcoming the negativity bias. More optimistic people make more money than those who are pessimistic. Grateful people are less likely to suffer from depression. High performing teams make positive comments over five times more often than negative ones. People who frequently experience positive emotions get sick less often.

That’s where an exceptional mentor can be helpful.

By being in our corner, mentors help us keep the negativity bias in check by reminding us of how we excel. Helping us orient ourselves from a place of strength and celebrate what is going well, they allow us to succeed.

1. Estroff Marano, Hara. “Our Brain’s Negative Bias.” Psychology Today. June 20, 2003. Web. 2 Feb. 2018.
2. Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 5 (1995): 1045-1062. Web. 2 Feb. 2018.
3. Schwartz, Tony. “Overcoming Your Negativity Bias” New York Times. 14 June
2013. Web 2 Feb. 2018.
4. Warrell, Margie. “Is Negativity Bias Sabotaging Your Success?” Forbes. September 20, 2017. Web. 2 Feb. 2018.