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Positivity (Happiness) in the Workplace and Organizational Change

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Technique 4: Break the negativity cycle

For leaders and managers, a valuable technique when faced with a negative employee is to point out positive aspects of what they may be ranting about. For example, when an employee is bemoaning the poorly implemented technology system, break the negative cycle by describing the benefits when it ultimately is implemented. One can even reframe the context of a difficult system:  you would not have had the opportunity to learn the system as thoroughly if the implementation had been seamless. The very fact that it was challenging demanded the need to roll-up your sleeves and really learn the system.  Again, using the example of my brother, when simply listening does not work, I will gently observe the magnificent cloud formations over the ocean, while he is ranting about the rusted car carcasses lying abandoned at the base of the cliff.

Technique 5: Increase Positivity

While reducing negativity gets the biggest “bang for the buck” in terms of Fredrickson’s 3:1 ratio, ultimately it is the positive experiences and emotions that move people to the tipping point (Fredrickson, 2009, p. 179). Reducing negativity negates the potential for a negative spiral, but it’s positivity that moves people forward and allows individuals to flourish. In the business world when experiencing large amounts of change, reducing negativity limits resistance and the potential for sabotage. But it is positivity that opens people’s minds to the opportunity that change brings and stimulates the creativity that maximizes the opportunities presented by change in the workplace. The five techniques that follow are by no means the only ones available, however they are five that I personally have experienced and observed as powerful, and that the research literature rates as impactful.

Technique 6: The “Big Picture” at work – Find positive meaning

This is more a personal perspective than one based on scientific research and readings – it is primarily based on my own 30 years of working in challenging organizational settings. While Arbor and Fredrickson amongst others describe a variety of tactical tools and techniques for developing positivity in life and the workplace, finding positive meaning in life is for me the most important. It provides the big picture context that makes all of the “life is difficult” experiences (a Scott M. Peck quote) meaningful. The tactical tools and techniques are magnified in strength as they take place when a person has purpose in their work. My personal mission is to help companies and people navigate difficult change in a manner that not only brings business benefits, but enriches people’s lives – allowing them to deal with changing life circumstances in a more constructive and positive manner. With this end in mind, I tend to explore every difficult project that I am on with a lens of what I can learn so that I have a  richer set of experiences from which to draw in my consulting practice. The more challenging, the more valuable. For people who work simply to earn a living and pay the bills, a “big picture’ that provides long term meaning may be lacking. Although a difficult exercise, beyond the scope of this paper, finding purpose and meaning in work is, in my experience, essential as a “multiplier” for the tools and techniques discussed next.

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