Five Tips For Getting Started With Positive Psychology At Work

Positive psychology is the new domain of psychology that burst upon the world when Martin Seligman coined the phrase at his inaugural speech as the President of the American Psychological Association in 1998.

He issued a rallying call for research into human success. He wanted us to know more about what helps us excel, in health, in sport, in achievement. His work, and that of others who responded to the call, has been picked up by institutions as varied as the American Military and the education system. We know more now than we ever did about how to help people live happy and successful lives. The ideas have spread to Governments, with our own deciding to take regular measures of national wellbeing as well as national wealth.

Positive psychology can be applied in the workplace. Its successful application will help you develop an engaged, productive, healthy workforce, and to create a great place to work. Here are some direct and practical ideas of how to apply the best of the results of the research into positive psychology to your workplace.

Losada and Heaphy in 2004 demonstrated that feeling good is good for us. In their research the teams that offered each other at least three times more praise than criticism were the most successful. Since then Fredrickson has made a study of what good emotions do for us, and Shawn Achor has brought all the research together in his great book ‘the happiness advantage’ also available on youtube as a Tedx talk. The result is conclusive: happiness leads to success. So, how can you help your people feel good?


Feelin' Good

1. Start meetings with a round of success stories.

Before you get into the meat of the meeting, usually a litany of problems and challenges, start by giving people the opportunity to share the best of their week.


2. Build the sharing of great stories about the achievements and success of the organization into your induction programme.

Get the owners of the stories to share their best moments of working for your company. Even better, equip your new recruits with appreciative questions about when people have been most proud to be part of the organization, or their greatest achievement at work, and send them off to interview people. This will leaven the dough of getting to grips with the staff handbook and inspire your new recruits.


3. Educate your managers about this research.

Too many managers are quick to offer critical feedback and slow to offer praise, hoarding it as a scarce resource. Explain that they need to keep the ratio of positive to negative comments and experiences above 3:1 and preferable 6:1 if they want to get the best from people.


4. Give them the tools to do this. 

Particularly, introduce the concept of diamond feedback and train people in its use. Diamond feedback is when you both report the behaviour you saw that you thought was good, and give the praise. E.g. ‘ I listened to how you handled that customer call. The way you admitted our errors and thanked her for letting us know was really good. I could hear that you saved a customer we might have lost. That’s worth a lot of money to us. Well done, that was great work.’


5. Help people use their natural strengths

Another finding coming through from the positive psychology research is that helping people understand what their natural strengths are and how to use them aids performance. Using strengths is energising and engaging for people. This means they find work that calls on their particular and unique strengths profile motivating. The more you can help people find ways to use their strengths at work, the more likely it is that they will become self-motivated in their work. But first they need to know them.


How You Can Do This

There are a number of strengths identifying tools around, particular the StrengthScope psychometric, which also has a great set of support cards. However in a low tech way we can just ask people ‘When are you at your most energised at work?’’ What feels really easy and enjoyable for you that others sometimes struggle with?’ and most interesting of all ‘what can you almost not, not do?’

Once you know your own strengths, find ways to use them more at work and, equally important, ways to do less of the work that drains you of energy. Find someone to delegate it to for whom it plays to their strengths. We’re not all detail people, but some of us love combing through data with a fine tooth-comb. Reconfigure how you achieve the objective so it plays to your strengths. Pair up with someone whose strengths complement yours. Allocate tasks in your team by strengths rather than by role and delegate by volunteer rather than imposition when possible.

Make sure other people know your strengths, so that they can call on you for opportunities that play to your strengths.

Positivity and strengths are probably two of the headline findings from the positive psychology research that are easily applicable to the workplace setting. However there are also other emerging findings that are of interest. For example, did you know that how you respond to someone’s good news is as important for relationship building as how you respond to their bad news? Apparently so. To encourage positive relationships at work, help people to be actively positive in their response to other people’s good news. This means not just saying ‘that’s great’, but actively inquiring into how they did it, how they feel and how they hope to build on it.


And finally, you may have noticed how some people are just people that other people like to have around. They give people around them a general good feeling. People are attracted to them. The research confirms the existence of such people at the centre of networks of positive energy. They have the knack of giving people little boosts of good feeling in their conversations or interactions with them, and they leave feeling better than when they arrived. These people are gold dust in terms of organisational motivation and performance. Notice who they are, place them strategically in projects and initiatives to which you want to attract other people, for example.


Futher Reading

This article has barely scratched the surface of the interesting research and ideas emanating from this field. The book ‘Positive Psychology At Work’ explains these and other ideas in more detail. For these with an aversion to books, we also have a set of development cards that offer bite-sized explanations of twenty core positive psychology concepts, with questions to help understand them and suggestions of how to integrate the concept at work.


Other Resources

More on using Appreciative Inquiry and other positive psychology techniques to boost engagement at work can be found in Sarah’s book Positive Psychology at Work.

See more 'How To' guides in the Knowledge Warehouse.

Appreciating Change Can Help

Appreciating Change is skilled and experienced at supporting leaders in working in this challenging, exciting and productive way with their organizations. Find out more by looking at how we help with Leadership , Engagement and Culture change.

For further information on these alternative approaches to change, please contact us or phone 07973 782 715