Spark #

Bad Apples

Safety is not mere emotional weather but rather the foundation on which strong culture is built.”

Spark #
Bad Apples
What We're Talking About

The principle we're discussing

It’s true: One bad apple can ruin the bunch. What helps? A really good one. 

Here’s a real-world example: Researchers at the University of New South Wales wanted to see how groups would respond to different stimuli. Specifically, negative stimulus, in the form of "Nick," whose job was to pose as a member of the group and demonstrate one of three different behaviors: Jerk (aggressive and defiant), Downer (think Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh), or Slacker (withholding effort).

For most of the groups, Nick’s poor behavior proved to be infectious. Members would start mirroring him, thus derailing the project. However, in one group, a member named Jonathan deflected Nick’s behavior by shielding the group with his own positivity. Jonathan made his team feel safe, and thus immune to the “bad apple.”

Why it Matters

Why this principle is important and matters to you

Jonathan didn’t call Nick out or ignore him. Instead, he engaged Nick directly and deflected the negative energy, preventing it from derailing the entire team. 

Jonathan's group was successful because it was safer than the others.

Humans are pre-wired to respond to signals of safety. The most successful teams demonstrate cues of belonging to create that safety, like spreading positive energy, respecting individuals, and orienting towards the future. By recognizing how strongly our unconscious brains respond to these cues, we realize how important it is to build them into our cultures.

How You Can Use It

This provides practical ways to apply learnings from this Spark

To stick with the apple metaphor, consider this food for thought: Where does safety come from, and how do you go about building it? 

Feeling safe gives you the ability to take more risks and express vulnerability more readily. Safe, tight-knit groups exhibit distinct habits of interaction, which can help counter any “bad apples” with belonging cues. These habits include: 

  • Close proximity
  • Eye contact
  • Short, energetic exchanges
  • Questions
  • Active listening
  • Humor 

Try prioritizing these habits in your own life, when and where they’re feasible. Then see how much of an effect those “bad apples” have on the bunch.


An opportunity to reflect on yourself and/or your team and how you can apply these insights

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