Normalizing a Culture of Positivity
People are social, comparative creatures. As a norm, we want to have relationships with other people so long as those relationships don’t affect our individuality. To ensure we maintain our identity, we start comparing ourselves to others, specifically looking for ways in which we can establish ourselves as “better than.” This type of thinking is called an externally focused downward counterfactual (FNs A, B), where we seek personal gratitude by improving our status in relation to others. Because it’s externally comparative, it becomes something we want to share, and because the office is where we interact with people the most, it’s where we bring it up...it’s called gossip.
Leave that s*** at home! A workplace should a place of commonality, camaraderie, achievement, collaboration, and creativity. Degradation, blame, comparison, and ignorance do not belong. But gossip is pervasive, as, for those who are party to it, it provides a feeling of status, it allows us to compare and feel superior.
No one wants this type of division in the workplace. We want inclusivity and positivity. But how can that be achieved? Here are four simple ways to normalize positivity in your workplace.
Establish a company value focused on positivity. Something like “We are a company focused on positivity. This means we promote and uplift others in our daily conversations.” The brilliant thing about company values, so long as they’re communicated and known, is they lead to change without any enforcement (FN C).
When you set a standard, you are priming people to conform to it, and because we are social creatures, we tend to gravitate toward established norms. You should still enforce your values, but this anecdote demonstrates the power of presence alone.
Don’t blame. This is a note specific to managers. Instead of saying “this wasn’t done on time,” ask, “what can we do to make sure we meet our deadlines,” or on a more personal note, “hey, I know you wanted to finish this on time; is there something going on that prevented you from finishing it?”
The latter responses recognize that a goal was not met, but they don’t assume a negative tone, and they create a platform of support.
Inclusivity and Diversity. The good news is that companies are heavily focused on this already. It’s remarkably essential because ignorance is mostly fed by lack of access to objective information. By establishing environments that value diversity of people, we expose diversity of thought. Not only does this help curb rampant negativity, but it also promotes wild creativity, which leads to remarkable ingenuity.
Frequent feedback. Feedback is an introspective process, and it requires a person to quantify their own progress. At no point should a person walk out of a meeting having received only negative feedback. It’s not about giving everyone a trophy, it’s about threading hope into even the bleakest message. You are facilitating an inward-focused downward counterfactual (see footnote 1), and continually reminding them of their worth.
Directing your company culture starts by understanding how people interact with each other, and the type of environment that fuels them. The above four tips will help curb the spread of negativity around your office and will go a long way to developing a culture of positivity. If you want to chat more about the specifics of how this looks in your company, department, or team, please reach out - a conversation never hurts.
A. This is opposed to an inward-focused downward counterfactual where we attain actual gratitude by seeing how we’ve improved over a varied period of time. For example, “Last year I made $50k, this year I made $60k; I’m grateful to have that extra 10k.” (or) “They let me sit in on the planning meeting; my five years of hard work really is paying off.” (or) “It didn’t rain on my while biking into work today!”
B. For more on counterfactuals, read The paradox of choice: why more is less by Barry Schwartz.
C. Ariely, Dan. Predictably irrational: the hidden forces that shape our decisions. Harper Collins, London (2009). P 213-215.