I’ve been looking into the field of positive psychology lately, participating in a pilot program and reviewing some of the research.
For the regular readers of Great Leadership, who have gotten to know my “no nonsense” pragmatic approach to leadership development, this may come as somewhat of a surprise. I’m also personally not the touchy feely type, so this has been a bit of a stretch for me.
This is not some wacky leadership development flavor of the month. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve learned, and think a lot of it can be applied to leadership. In a very practical way, of course. (-:
Here’s one aspect of positive psychology: How you react to someone’s good news can hurt or improve the relationship.
When an employee (or a peer, or anyone) comes to you with good news, how do you respond? Do they walk away feeling satisfied, inspired, and motivated? As leaders, that’s what we strive for, right? Or do they walk away feeling de-motivated?
You may be surprised to discover you may be wasting an opportunity – even worse, harming the relationship – and not even realizing it. Let’s dig a little into positive psychology to find out why.
Shelly Gable, who is an associate professor of psychology at University of California, Santa Barbara, works on the positive psychology of love and marriage. Most psychologists who research marriage work on problems. They focus on how a couple responds when something bad happens.
Gable takes a different approach. She works on what makes a marriage great, and her approach can apply to anybody who wants to improve a relationship – at work or at home.
Here’s an example to illustrate the concept. How you would respond if your significant other tells you that he or she has just been promoted?
1. Do you react enthusiastically (active-constructive)? "Hey, that’s fantastic news! You must be so proud. How about if we go out and celebrate tonight?”
2. Do you point out the potential problems or down sides of the good event (active-destructive)? "Uh oh, does that mean you’re going to be working longer hours and traveling more?"
3. Do you say little, but convey that you are happy to hear the news (passive-constructive)? "That’s great, honey."
4. Do you seem uninterested (passive-destructive)? "What’s for dinner?"
She calls the first category "Capitalizing," - amplifying the pleasure of the good situation and contributing to an upward spiral of positive emotion. Capitalizing turns out to be the key to strong relationships.
Here’s some more of “the science”: University of Washington researcher John Gottman found that partners in satisfying marriages say at least five times as many positive things to each other as negative things.
Let’s take this back to the workplace and leadership. How do you think your employees would describe your typical responses to their good news?
My manager usually reacts to my good news enthusiastically – sometimes even more excited than I initially was. I’m often encouraged to “relive the moment”, and he/she takes the time to listen and ask questions.
My manager doesn’t make a big deal out of it, but I’m pretty sure is happy for me.
My manager often finds a problem with my good news – the glass is always only half full.
Sometimes I get the impression my manager isn’t paying attention or just doesn’t care much.
As a leader, every interaction with your employees is an opportunity to inspire and motivate. We tend to spend a lot of time teaching managers how to deliver bad news, deal with conflict, deliver constructive feedback, and solve employee concerns.
How about if we discipline ourselves to respond in a positive way to good news? It sounds so easy, but trust me, it's not.
Try it out, and see what happens. What have you got to lose?