One Secret of a Happy Workplace: Be Positive

In: BlogDate: Jul 21, 2011By: Henry Stewart

At Happy we have always believed that being positive is crucial for creating a happy workplace.

Being positive and supportive of others is a key requirement here. We recruit for that characteristic and it is crucial in our reviews and promotion. In our early days we even had a happiness swear box: if you were negative about somebody else or about yourself (even in jest) you had to put money in the box. And then, for a while, you had to make the next round of tea.

I was told that to become a qualified teacher in New Zealand, the assessor counts how many positive and negative statements you make. To pass the ratio has to be at least 7:1 positive to negative. I can’t verify if this is true, but how great would it be if it was? Imagine what classrooms would be like. And, in my experience, Kiwis are a pretty positive bunch – so maybe it works.

A recent talk by Martin Seligman of Authentic Happiness alerted me to the work of Marcial Losada, whose research backs up the importance of being positive. He found that a ratio of 2.9 (almost three positive statements for every negative one) is the key point above which individuals, business teams and even marriages flourish. Positive statements included support, encouragement and appreciation. Negative ones included disapproval, sarcasm and cynicism.

In another study he found that in a sample meeting, high-performing teams had a positive/negative ratio of 5.6. For medium-performance teams it was 1.9 and for low-performance teams it was just 0.4. High-performing teams also spent far more time on inquiry rather than advocating existing viewpoints and on talking about others rather than about themselves or their company.

He also describes the work by John Gottman on couples who claims to predict whether a marriage will end in divorce with 83% accuracy. A ratio of less than 1 (more negative statements than positive ones) is a key danger sign, while a ratio of more than 5 predicts a long and happy marriage.

Can you be too positive?

Apparently you can. Losada found that when the ratio goes above 11.6, which he describes as a state of “Pollyannaish optimism”, then the benefits disappear – possibly because it becomes an environment where it isn’t possible to pass on necessary bad news. I suspect there are not many work environments where there is a danger of this level of excess positivity.

Losada’s conclusion is that we need to “tap into the liberating and creative power of positivity” and he advocates the generation of a “state of realistic enthusiasm that can propel organisations to reach and uphold the heights of excellence.”

That sounds good to me. Think about it.

What is the ratio of positive to negative statements in your workplace? And in what you yourself say? What can you do increase the positivity and become more effective – now?

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Sam Haworth Booth26 days ago

Henry Stewart, Founder and Chief Happiness Officer

Henry is founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happy Ltd, originally set up as Happy Computers in 1987. Inspired by Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick, he has built a company which has won multiple awards for some of the best customer service in the country and being one of the UK’s best places to work.

Henry was listed in the Guru Radar of the Thinkers 50 list of the most influential management thinkers in the world. "He is one of the thinkers who we believe will shape the future of business," explained list compiler Stuart Crainer.

His first book, Relax, was published in 2009. His second book, the Happy Manifesto, was published in 2013 and was short-listed for Business Book of the Year.

You can find Henry on LinkedIn and follow @happyhenry on Twitter.

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