1. Own up to the specific negative. Be honest with yourself. It may be something you yourself are concerned about or it may be an objection others have raised or seem likely to raise. Understand the potential downside: to yourself and to the others involved.
2. List as many positives as you can come up with about the negative, for yourself or for others.
3. Ask yourself if the negative exists because of a potential positive. “The report will be late because it’s going to take me longer to write one that’s sure to get the appropriation.” Without the negative (the delay) there is no positive (the certainty of receiving the money).
4. Ask yourself if the negative actually is a potential positive. Clyde Thompson’s unemployability could be shown to make him a more dedicated and more committed—and therefore more desirable—employee. Thus the negative (unemployability) becomes a positive. Or at least it’s integral to a positive (a more desirable employee).
5. Ask yourself if the very existence of the negative is evidence of a positive. “Our professional fees are much higher than the competition’s. And why are our clients willing to pay the extra money? Because we deliver superior results.” The positive (superior results) can be deduced from the negative (higher fees).
6. Ask yourself if you can brag about the situation on balance, negative and all. “Yes, boss, I’m probably the worst shooter of any guard in the league. But I deserve $7.6 million a year because I never turn the ball over, and I’m one of the best playmakers you’ll ever find. Bottom line: the team will score a lot more points with me than without me.” Even if there’s nothing positive to say about being a terrible shooter, on balance the picture is extremely positive. (Whether it’s worth $7.6 million is not my call.)
7. Ask yourself what you can bring to the situation so you can brag about it with complete honesty. “I know my people have let you down in the past. And with the transition we’re going through, until we get them all properly trained I can’t promise they won’t let you down again. But I’m going to oversee the re-structuring personally. And let me remind you how successful my track record is. And why I can guarantee we’re going to finish on time and below budget.” You become the difference between a negative and a positive situation.
8. If none of the above works, the negative simply isn’t braggable. You need to add water to the glass: which means you need to find a way to create a better deal.