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November 14, 2016

How to Apply Positive Psychology at Work

Rachel Salaman

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MargaretGreenbergWhat's the difference between positive thinking and positive psychology? That was my first question to positive psychology expert Margaret Greenberg in our Expert Interview. (Mind Tools Club Premium members and Mind Tools Corporate users can hear the full 30-minute podcast here.) It was a question she'd heard before.

"I can't tell you how many times people, when I tell them what I do, say, 'Oh, so you just think positive thoughts. Is that it?' And I say, 'No, not exactly. It's not turning lemons into lemonade. It's not about a bunch of smiley faces and just thinking positive thoughts."

So if not that, then what? Think of a bridge, she suggests.

"Imagine that you're an architect and that you design bridges. Would you study all of the bridges that have collapsed or would you study all of the bridges that have stood the test of time? Psychologists typically studied only the bridges that have collapsed. We study disease and dysfunction, and rightly so we need to cure those things. We haven't spent so much time studying the bridges that have withstood the test of time. Studying more positive topics and what makes people flourish, what makes businesses productive and positive places – we haven't done as good a job studying those kinds of things," she says.

In practical terms, we're talking about qualities such as resilience and optimism, and a focus on strengths. All of these can have a huge positive impact at work, Greenberg says, "even on the bottom line."

She cites one study that looked at more than 300,000 employees in 51 companies. It found that teams that applied their top strengths every day had 44 percent higher customer loyalty and employee retention than those that did not.

"So it matters," Greenberg asserts. "We're not saying ignore problems, no. But if that's the only thing you focus on, fixing problems or shoring up weaknesses, you're really missing out on an important part of the results equation."

Managers intrigued by these ideas would benefit from reading Greenberg's book, "Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business," co-written with fellow positive psychology proponent Senia Maymin. It's a collection of tips and tools from the world of positive psychology that are easy to implement in all kinds of organizations. (Mind Tools Club Premium members and Mind Tools Corporate users can read and hear our Book Insight review here.)

With catchy names like "Put on an Explorer's Hat" and "Recognize the Achoo! Effect," these tools address macro issues like team engagement, time management and goal setting, as well as micro ones, with advice on recruitment and performance reviews.

There's a whole section on meetings, which includes a host of positivity-flavored tips. One is called the "Peak-End Rule."

Greenberg explains: "We remember the peak of our experiences and we also remember the ending. And so when you're having a meeting, what often happens is people are running off to the next meeting and there is no closure. You don't identify some of the next steps [or ask] what are we accountable for? So building in time at the end of your meetings to end on a positive note, to provide some recognition or to identify next steps is really important."

Similarly, it's important to "Start with a Sizzle" – the name of another tool in the book.

"If you're going to be solving problems together, or strategizing, you want people to be in a positive state of mind. It's what Barbara Fredrickson, another positive psychologist, calls the Broaden and Build theory. So start off your meetings with some kind of positive prompt," Greenberg suggests.

"It could be, 'What's the best thing that's happened since we met last week?' Or, 'Do we have anyone we'd like to recognize today?' Or, 'What are you most proud of, something personal or professional, that you'd like to share?' But just get people in a really good frame of mind to start off that meeting and you'll have better results later."

Another tip is to carry out a SOAR analysis. Like the popular SWOT analysis, a SOAR analysis looks at strengths and opportunities but, instead of weaknesses and threats, it identifies aspirations and desired results. In this audio clip, from our exclusive Expert Interview podcast, Greenberg explains how this works and why it's a good idea.

 Listen to the full Expert Interview in the Mind Tools Club Premium, or ask your employer to sign up to Mind Tools Corporate ¦ Install Flash Player.

How positive is your workplace? Join in the discussion below!

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