Positivity at work can be a win-win situation

Photo by Kristine Weilert on Unsplash.com

Photo by Kristine Weilert on Unsplash.com

Have you noticed how good it is to work with positive people? They seem to find opportunities to create positive meanings when they communicate. Fostering positivity is not hard if you are aware of the moments to use.

The power of acknowledgement
I have seen the value of acknowledgment. As a teacher, I observed the benefits of appreciation and positivity, in student performance. By setting expectations, students tend to “meet” that expectation. Likewise in workplaces, there are ways of treating staff that tend to “lift” morale.

At work, there are lots of opportunities to build people up rather than put them down. It involves setting people up to succeed. A Harvard Business Review article about the benefits of “being nice” to people references research on this topic.

Civility and a focus on others
Being civil and inclusive to people in the workplace, may seem unremarkable. However, there are many circumstances that influence the behaviour of people to be contrary to this. Competitiveness and scarcity of resources are common causal factors. More than that, preoccupation with our own lot and our associated performance can impact the way we treat others.

By increasing our awareness of how we relate to others can make a difference to how others feel about themselves and their work. This stems from the principle of reciprocity whereby people who receive a benefit from another, feel obligated to reciprocate by giving back or helping that person. This motivates them towards pro-social behaviour.

The research shows that:

stories we hear from others that highlight our unique contributions can help [us] find purpose in our relationships with our colleagues and our work (Dutton and Lee, 2017).

The stories we can tell
Dutton and Lee (2017) call this “narrating others”. They suggest four of ways of creating narratives that cultivate positive self-meaning.

  1. Creating positive first impressions
  2. Acknowledging the value of each team member
  3. Positively describing colleagues
  4. Acknowledging the contribution of exiting team members

Create positive first impressions
When new team members arrive, it is important to create positive impressions of them to others in the team/organisation. This can be done by introducing them to colleagues with narratives that make others want to get to know them eg mentioning something they have contributed or had a good outcome from.

By sharing information about new members joining a team in advance of their arrival is an indication of your interest in them and the value they bring. The flow-on effect is that interactions between existing staff and the new arrival will refer back to the information shared, conveying a positive regard.

Acknowledging the value of each team member
In the forming of teams, it is important to narrate stories about each team member’s strengths and potential contribution to the group. This sharing of information about each other, can improve a team’s ability to exchange information. Done well, it can also create interest in each other and create a desire for team members to want to connect.  It is this connection that helps create a collective sense of purpose.

Positively describing colleagues
There are times when people are undermined at work. These can result from actions that can seem subtle. People can be interrupted or silenced in meetings, put down by others or excluded from things. Not all of these actions are intentional. A positive team leader or team member will notice this and find opportunities to build up a narrative about those being sidelined, with positive references.

Acknowledging the contribution of exiting team members
When team members leave (voluntarily or otherwise) there are ways of acknowledging their contribution to the team or organisation. Sometimes these departures are due to unforeseen circumstances.  In the parting acknowledgements, there is usually an opportunity to narrate their accomplishments and the impact they have made on others. These narratives can also be shared with colleagues in the same field/industry who may be interested in the talents the person has to offer.

Making positive meaning is a win-win situation
Dutton and Lee (2017) suggest there are opportunities to create positive meaning each day. The key is in our awareness of moments as they arise, and then using them to uplift others. With reciprocity at its core, this approach benefits the conveyor of positive meaning as well as the recipient.


Dutton, Jane, E. & Lee, Julia. 2017. The benefits of saying nice things about your colleagues Harvard Business Review 1 August, 2017

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