Power in Positivity?
There is much discussion now about how positivity affects us as individuals - from a mindset and performance perspective. If it is proven to impact us individually, then it’s a reasonable assumption that team and organizational performance are affected too.
We are all human, and we all experience the ups and downs of life, along with the emotions that come with it. Somewhere along the way we gave “emotions” two categories - good and bad. There is a big movement today about staying happy or keeping positive, yet we need to be aware of the so-called “bad” emotions so that we don’t ignore or push them away. If we haven’t learned how to notice, acknowledge and release them, then they can bite us at times we don’t want to be bitten.
Self-awareness is the beginning of transformation, change and growth.
Emotions are actually neither good nor bad. Susan David talks about the gift and power of emotional courage. How emotional agility is about curiosity and compassion, and that emotions are data not directives. She talks about the feeling you get when you know there is a chocolate cake in the fridge - if you try and ignore the cake what happens?! Emotions are the same, by ignoring either our “good or bad” emotions they can intensify and if we discredit our own feelings we can begin to create thought patterns that aren’t as healthy as they could be.
Take this into the workplace; have you ever noticed your feelings when someone slams their hand angrily on the desk? or yells at someone in your presence? If it’s witnessed by a number of people, have you noticed how the atmosphere changes? How glances across the room begin to occur? Have you noticed the feelings you get when you believe someone has “wronged” you? Often we respond to these experiences with judgement, reinforcing our own values that “bad” emotions are not socially acceptable or good models of behavior. It can rile us in ways we didn’t expect but all that is happening is our emotions our showing us what we value. This is not an advocate for poor behavior that alienates, belittles, or intimidates others, but more to highlight that these are mere emotional responses. What if we were to accept that these are momentary, passing expressions by those individuals who haven’t learned how to notice, acknowledge, and release their emotions in other ways? What if we were to consider that those emotions were released in a way as best that person knows how, and could we forgive them (or ourselves) for not knowing how to release them in other ways? Is it worthy of consideration that there might be alternative ways to release emotions, ways in which we can learn to let go, without them biting us where damage control is needed as a result?
If emotions affect our thoughts, thoughts can affect our words and behaviors,
and that can affect our experiences.
As humans we are predisposed to think negatively, and while this is helpful to our survival we do need to be aware of it. Jamil Zaki talks about this in his book “The War for Kindness.” In developing our own awareness of our thoughts we can inspire our own minds to shift track, play a new record and turn negative thinking into positive thinking. We can also learn to spot when others have fallen into the same trap and we can help them shift gear by asking questions to help them release (often privately) “bad” or “negative” emotions. Have you ever had a conversation with someone that just left you lighter and brighter? - no matter what mood you were in before you began talking with them?
This year at Wimbledon, Simona Halep won the women’s title, and Novak Djokovic won the men’s title. There were two very poignant lessons that came out during the interviews immediately after both matches. Each tennis player commented about their state of mind. In fact, they were some of the first words that they expressed when asked '“how” they won. They didn’t go into technique, or stamina, or agility. No, they spoke about their mindset.
Halep credits her “positive mindset” for helping her to win. She thanked her family and coach for encouraging and helping her to shift her mindset into a place of believing she could do it.
Djokovic demonstrated immense self-awareness and acknowledged “My play was up and down, but I never stopped believing.” It’s a bit of a cliché, but “it’s true… never stop believing.” [.. it’s possible.]
Negativity is contagious, but so is positivity. Positive thinking affects our compassion for ourselves and for others. It affects how we care and how we show that. Organizations are dramatically affected by the level of care and compassion that exists within its’ fabric.
In their book “Trillion Dollar Coach” Eric Schmidt, CEO and Chairman of Google from 2001-2011, Jonathan Rosenberg a previous senior VP at Google and now an advisor to Alphabet’s management team, and Alan Eagle who runs a set of Google’s sales programs share insights of the leadership style and coaching capabilities of Bill Campbell - the Trillion Dollar Coach. They talk about the elements, among others, of how empathy, encouragement, care, compassion and positivity affect cultures. Bill Campbell sadly passed away in 2016 but he had an impact on an incredible number of individuals in the tech world from Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Mary Meeker, Tim Cook, and Larry Page - to name a few. In chapter 5, they cite the work by Sigal G. Barsaed and Olivia A. O’Neill on “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” which is a longitudinal study of the culture of companionate love and employee and client outcomes in a long-term care setting. They highlight how organizations with this in place have higher employee satisfaction and teamwork, lower absenteeism and better team performance.
An organization is only as good as the people who are part of it. If individuals are struggling, not self-compassionate, focus on negativity, are not clear on who they are, or what they want from their own lives, do not encourage each other, or lack the ability to truly and empathically communicate, then the organization will not thrive.
Culture is impacted by positive encouragement. This doesn’t mean glossing over the real stuff that needs identifying and addressing. It doesn’t mean sweeping things under the carpet either. It means finding courage, compassion and empathy to address “good” and “bad” emotions. It means encouraging teams by supporting people as individuals first. Helping each other to be brave, to find the courage to overcome negative thought patterns by exploring, recognizing and acknowledging them so that when the pattern is active it can be addressed. When this occurs gears shift, each individual is nurtured, and teams can come together and strive forward to achieve successes in an aligned way.
Steps to inspire yourself and others with positivity in your work environment:
Notice and tally up how often you negatively and positively respond to something at work - or even outside work. Have fun with it, keep a record for a day - if you really want a challenge do it for 5 days. See if it balances out. If it doesn’t then you have permission not to beat yourself up about it!
Notice how often you encourage yourself with positive thoughts about your own performance. Most of us are our own worst enemies and our self-talk patterns can be mean, unkind and cruel - and if truly challenged mostly they aren’t true statements. Keep a tally - if it’s erring on the side of negativity see if you catch yourself in the act. When you notice that you are berating yourself see if you can find a positive phrase to turn that negative thought around.
Notice what feelings you get from observing news, social media, or TV shows or movies - if you can put a name to those emotions, just jot them down. Part of shifting gears is noticing emotions without judging them. Give yourself permission not to analyze why you’re feeling those emotions, just notice them, that’s your only exercise.
It’s ok to feel the emotions you have. Yes, you can feel angry, jealous, annoyed, greedy, selfish - anything that comes up is ok. All you are doing is acknowledging what you are feeling. Remember Susan David notes that emotions are just data points. You release their power over you when you notice them.
Notice how often you genuinely express thanks to someone. Take time to thank someone individually for what they do, and explain why they made a difference. Appreciation feels good and it is contagious.
Write notes or cards. Leave them on your team members desk so they find them when they arrive at work. Starting the day with positive encouragement can set the tone. A card with an inspirational message is likely to be left visible on the desk and inspire positive thoughts.
Drop off inspirational messages on desks, leave them in coffee shops, hand them to your Uber driver. Spread some positivity. You could be the one that changes someone’s day entirely - and yes negatively or positively. The power of choice is yours.
Find ways to celebrate others - family, friends, employees, clients. No matter what your opinions of others are, we are all human and we need to feel emotionally loved and feel connection. Celebration and caring for others helps inspire that.