Do you notice that setbacks tend to occupy your mind more than victories?
Do you sometimes struggle to stay positive about your business?
Employees expect their leaders to be enthusiastic, energetic, and positive about the future.
But on a day-to-day basis, maintaining a positive outlook and inspiring others can be challenging.
Even if everything in your business is going smoothly, a problematic issue in your personal life—with your spouse, child, friend, or relative—can throw you off your game.
How can you foster a happy workplace if don’t feel optimistic within yourself?
The Negativity Bias
Research reveals that our brains have a bias towards negativity. It reacts more strongly to negative stimuli than it does to positive stimuli.
This negativity bias evolved for a good reason: it helped us survive in early human history. Detecting danger quickly was fundamental for staying alive.
Today, however, our brain’s vigilance and problem-seeking mindset tend to play against us:
- Our attitudes are more influenced by bad news than good.
- We ruminate on negative events more easily than we celebrate positive ones.
- We remember insults more easily than praises.
As Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain, put it, “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”
The Cost of Negativity to Your Business
Consider how this negativity bias affects your work and the performance of your team.
Andrew Miner and his colleagues tracked employee moods. They found that negative interactions with a boss or a coworker had five times stronger effect on an employee’s feelings than positive interactions.
Will Felps examined the effects of toxic people on work groups. Not surprisingly, he found that negative people create a host of defensive behaviors within teams that increase conflict, reduce motivation, stall cooperation, and minimize creativity and learning.
Felps estimates that just one toxic team member gives that team a 30-40% performance disadvantage compared to teams that have no toxic members.
Negative reactions—from others and ourselves—distract, deflate, and emotionally drain us.
When these reactions are our own, they affect our work. When someone consistently exhibits these negative emotions and behavior in a group, they drag down the entire team.
Smiling is contagious. Unfortunately, so is nastiness, laziness, and grumpiness.
It appears that one bad apple truly can spoil the bunch.
Counteract Negativity with More Positivity
As Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, “Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.”
Knowledge is often the first step to creating positive change. Knowing that bad is stronger than good is helpful in itself.
A happy workplace doesn’t happen accidentally. To combat the negativity bias, we need to recruit a larger army of positive thoughts, emotions, and experiences each day.
How much larger?
Barbara Fredrickson’s research suggests that there’s a 3:1 ratio for positivity, where we need three more positive experiences to counteract one negative experience.
Famed relationship expert John Gottman’s “magic ratio” of positive to negative experiences in the area of personal relationships is higher than Fredrickson’s at 5:1.
(Gottman can predict with 94% accuracy if a married couple will stay together after observing the ratio of positive to negative comments the couple makes in a 15-minute conversation between them.)
To tip the scale in the direction of optimism requires a battalion of positivity three to five times greater than the negative sentiments in your own mind and throughout your company.
Four Strategies for Fostering Personal Happiness
Fortunately, there are proven methods to change the tide and bring greater optimism and joy into your business as well as your personal life.
Fostering a happy workplace starts by cultivating optimism within yourself.
The founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, developed an assessment to evaluate a person’s level of optimism and pessimism about life. To assess your personal level of optimism, take the 48-question survey here.
Here are four effective strategies for developing a positive personal psychology:
Be Mindful: Learn to pay attention to your mental and emotional state throughout the day. Negativity can creep up on us when we’re not aware of it. Once you enter a negative state, it’s easy to get stuck in it. The quicker you identify pessimism, the quicker you can change it.
Challenge Your Beliefs: Once you recognize that you’re having negative thoughts, you can learn to dispute them. Use the well-documented method called the ABCDE model to dispute negative beliefs that follow an adversity. It can help you change your reactions from disempowering pessimistic views to more empowering proactive emotions.
Change Your State: The fastest way to transition from pessimism to optimism is to change your physiology. When you’re feeling down, move around. Play music that inspires you; music that gets you charged up. Move quickly and with power. Smile. Consciously uplifting your state repeatedly throughout the day can help condition yourself for continual success.
Cultivate Gratitude: Keeping a gratitude journal can make a measurable increase in your overall level of happiness. Think back over the past 24 hours before bed and write down five things you can be grateful for. Do it for 14 days and notice if you feel a change in your well being. Also, watch David Steindl-Rast’s TED talk, Want to be happy? Be Grateful.
For a free instructional guide on how to create authentic happiness in the present moment, click here.
Four Strategies for Encouraging a Happy Workplace
Here are four strategies for infusing your organization with greater optimism:
Stay Aware of the Negativity Bias: Take action when you see negativity start to spread. Remember Gottman’s 5:1 ratio. Consciously foster positive experiences to counteract the negative ones. When you notice your people harping on negative situations, help them change their state to break the rumination cycle. Use humor whenever appropriate.
Celebrate Every Win, Big or Small: When your team experiences a victory, celebrate it. When someone does something positive or acts in alignment with your core values, give it attention. Encourage your team to celebrate even small wins. Savoring positive experiences helps counteract the brain’s tendency to ruminate and overanalyze negative events. Celebrating even small progress helps you build positive momentum. On-the-spot recognition goes a long way.
Ask Empowering Questions: When you’re brainstorming with your team, it’s easy for people to focus on what’s wrong with an idea. Cultivate “value sensitivity” by asking people questions like: “What’s great about this idea?” “What can we leverage here?” “How can we build on this idea?” “What can we learn from this?”
Always End on the Positive: When giving feedback to employees, many leaders have a tendency to leave things on a negative note instead of a positive one. Always end on a positive note that gives clear direction to build momentum. Feelings of shame and guilt hinder learning and performance. Compassion and support promote positive change.
The Skill of Optimism
Ultimately, optimism is a skill. And, all skills can be learned.
Learning to cultivate greater levels of optimism within yourself raises your overall happiness and increases your personal performance at work.
Learning to foster optimism in your business elevates your team’s performance and supports your role as an inspiring leader.
Create a happy workplace and reap the rewards.
Adapted from an article I originally published on cultbranding.com.