As an employer, do you want to hire optimists, pessimists, or realists? There are multiple ways you could approach this question. Obviously, no one is going to answer that they want to hire pessimists—people who are unpleasant to be around because of their negativity. But if you work in a service-based business, you might want optimists to keep a positive attitude when interacting with clients. And if you work in a technical business, you might say you’d prefer realists because they must be the most realistic—right?
Actually, it’s a trick question. There are only two options: optimists and pessimists. Of course, there can be varying degrees of both, but people who call themselves realists are pessimists in disguise. Yes, they may think more “realistically,” but pessimists tend to think realistically. They know that bad things happen and are prepared for them. But that doesn’t mean they have an advantage over optimists. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Whether you believe that realists are actually pessimists or not, both will tend to look at a situation in a more negative light, focusing more on risks than rewards. While these people may have a more accurate view of the world, they are at a disadvantage in business and in life because of their viewpoint. Optimists, on the other hand, put themselves at an advantage by viewing the positives of a situation. They are better able to withstand hardship and are more likely to persevere and push through obstacles to achieve their goals, because they view obstacles as something they’re able to overcome.
Scientists call these viewpoints your “explanatory style.” There are three determining factors: Pessimists view negative events as permanent (lasting a long time), pervasive (applying to everything), and personal (their own fault). So when something bad happens, like perhaps being passed up for a promotion, a pessimist might say, “I’ll never get that promotion (permanent). Nobody likes me (pervasive). I’m terrible at my job (personal).”
However, an optimist views negative events as temporary, situational (rather than pervasive), and impersonal. In the same situation, an optimist might say, “I missed this time, but I’ll get the promotion next time (temporary). The other candidate really was excellent (situational). I’m great at my job, and I know I can prove I’m worthy of the promotion in the future (impersonal).” You can see how this explanatory style leads to better outcomes. The optimist tries again and continues to work at improving themselves, while the pessimist gives up.
So how about it—now that you know a little more about explanatory styles, are you an optimist or a pessimist?
A viewpoint of positivity makes a major difference in a work environment—and in your life. It feels better to work in an environment where people are kind and gracious and believe in good in the world, where your teammates are not easily discouraged and are able to weather challenges well. In fact, positivity is necessary for an effective work environment. Without it, team members will quickly become burned out and discouraged and fail to do their best work.
I’m not saying you need to hire only optimists. Certainly, there is a place for realistically assessing risks and taking precautions. However, there are things you can do to foster an environment of positivity in your work culture.
Here’s the thing: both positivity and negativity can be contagious. It starts at the top—whatever attitude the leadership takes will pass on to the team members. But it’s also shared among teams. If half of the team members complain frequently, the other half will either soon join them or get frustrated with the negativity. Either way, it will lead to burnout and dissatisfaction.
While your business may not be full of complaining pessimists, you can always benefit from a little more positivity. Happier team members are more productive and satisfied with their work. And that positivity can spread into all parts of life.
Have you ever had a fight with a family member and brought that negative energy to work? What about vice-versa—bringing home your stress from work and then fighting with your spouse? Creating a more positive outlook and experience in one part of your life bleeds into another.
At Hennessey Digital, we determined we wanted to create more positivity in the world. In an effort to encourage positivity in our company culture and inspire others, we created a new program called RAK, which stands for random acts of kindness. In this program, our team members spread positivity by doing kind things for others, like giving a 100% tip to a waiter when they go out for lunch or posting 5-star reviews for their favorite restaurants. And the results are awesome. When you put a smile on someone’s face, it’s impossible not to have one on your own. It also inspires those around you to do good and to look on the bright side.
Kindness is one of the best ways to create positivity. Negativity is usually very self-focused, and doing something altruistic forces you to focus on someone else. It’s hard to feel bad when you’re doing something nice for someone else. Start by doing kind things for your team members, and encourage them to pay it forward by doing kind things for each other and for their community.
On the most basic level, creating an optimistic work environment doesn’t have to cost you anything, although an attitude of giving can go a long way. Because positivity can be contagious, it needs to start with leadership—offering kindness, expressing gratitude, and modeling positivity to team members. Then, find ways to foster positivity among team members, whether that’s a program like RAK or something focused on building each other up within the company. By fostering a culture of kindness and exemplifying positivity, you can inspire the right attitude in your workplace.