In a competitive “give-me-outcomes” corporate culture, optimism and glass half-full thinking can be viewed as a Pollyanna-like distraction. After all, who has time for positive soft skills, when there are deadlines to meet and competitors to beat?
Research, however, shows that optimistic thinking can prevent depression, increase social connection, boost performance on the job, increase success, and make you (and your team) more resilient in the face of setbacks.
Without optimism, employees have little reason to stretch, innovate, or connect themselves to a noble cause bigger than what they can do themselves. Optimism, and the connectivity it creates in like-minded people, breeds collaboration and a larger sense of purpose. It seems that reframing your team’s belief that the glass is half-full may not only be a much more powerful driver than trying to motivate them with prior failures- it could have a positive effect on their work-life balance, mental health, and ultimately their engagement on your team.
Unlike the little bottle labeled “Drink Me” in Alice in Wonderland, you can’t obtain an optimistic mindset within a matter of minutes. Reframing your thinking and communicating the vision to your teams with an optimistic mindset, takes practice if it is not a natural skill set.
Both pessimism and optimism have ripple effects when displayed by leadership. If employees feel the full weight of pessimism (and failure on their shoulders) they won’t continue the pace for long. Try the following tactics to create a culture of optimism within your team.
- Start by finding the good news. All too often we focus strategic and operational discussions by what gaps are remaining. What is working well? What has improved? And if you are truly reaching to find the positive, what has not become worse? It is easy to forget that to turn the ship around we must first start by not continuing full steam ahead in the wrong direction. Share the good news DAILY!
- Reframe the pessimistic thoughts. There is logic in reframing the gaps in performance as “opportunities” and looking for the root cause of the barriers. For Example: If your team was tasked with meeting a sales target of 15% growth and YTD you are sitting at 11%- begin first with celebrating that you are at 11% and acknowledge the efforts (and teammates) that have contributed to that success. Ask the team “why” 15% has not been achieved, and then listen for the why. Look for barrier themes, problems to remove, and viewpoints as to the 15% goal. You just might discover knowledge that the teammates understand and know to be contributing to missing the goal but leadership is unaware of. There is nothing more frustrating to an employee than to highlight every day that they are not meeting the target. Find out the why.
- Reward positive thinking, behavior, language. Notice and point out when you see employee’s cheering each other on, picking up the slack, and working as a team. Ignore the Negative Nelly’s and focus your attention on those that carry the team when times are tough. Be very specific with the behaviors you want to see repeated.Praise is the life-preserver to burn out. A simple thank you can make someone feel valued and appreciated more than any financial compensation.
- Cross out the IM in impossible. Nothing zaps innovation quicker than brushing off an employee’s “brilliant” idea as not possible. The optimistic workplace is one where employees hope and believe that good things will come from their hard work. Pride develops from contribution and if they are never invited to contribute (even an idea that cannot come to fruition) they will soon learn to not bother.
- Increase Autonomy. Self-governance in the workplace is one of the highest motivators and shapers of self-identity at work. Autonomy motivates us to contribute to something greater than ourselves. Tapping into an employee’s core values to find out what constitutes purposeful work promotes an optimistic and engaged culture. Each one of us has a dream for our future selves and listening to these dreams breeds hope.
Optimistic Culture DONT'S:
Forgetting that “This too shall pass”. Role play resilience for your team by framing the highs and lows with the reminder that all is temporary. Take the time to celebrate the wins. Learn from the losses. Holding on to either for too long can cause angst when change comes again. Pessimistic thinking is centered around the concept that one good thing or one bad thing can make or break a life. Remind your team the ebbs and flows come and go.
Looking for the sunshine in every low. Validate when something is truly painful and uncomfortable. Allow your team to express grief and disappointment and its effect on their morale. Don’t try to always add “look on the bright side” or your empathy will seem disingenuous. Do try to get the employee to consider what has been learned by the experience. Finding value in a life lesson, albeit a painful one, can soften the blow.
Don’t promote learned helplessness. When human beings believe they have little control in what happens to them and assume their outcomes are not connected to their efforts, they begin to exhibit a learned helplessness and their pessimistic tendencies increase. Leaders can compound this belief by doing too much to solve an employee’s problems without engaging them to discover this skill-set themselves. Don’t be the all-knowing problem solver. Help them to develop critical thinking and autonomy which will grow an optimistic mindset.
Winston Churchill's famous quote that “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” still rings true today.
Optimism has been proven to improve the immune system, prevent chronic disease, and help people cope with the difficulties and disappointments in expectations. Optimists recover more quickly than pessimists. Applying optimism-focused tactics, and adopting a practice of daily gratitude within the workplace, will increase the likelihood of cultivating a more engaged culture.
After all, what have you got to lose?