The following is a guest piece by Michelle Gielan.
Numerous times during my high-pressure career as a broadcast journalist, I worked with people who were extremely toxic and had no bones about spreading their negative mood around.
I’ll never forget the “welcome tour” a cameraman gave me my first day as a reporter for NBC. He pointed out all the worst restaurants in town, followed by a detailed rundown of my colleagues’ “problem areas.” It took about two weeks of getting to know my coworkers and learning more about my new city to rewrite his toxic introduction.
Negative people can be destructive to our happiness—and all too often we feel powerless to do anything about it. Now as a positive psychology researcher, I can measure how one negative person or a debilitating culture at work can decrease well-being, productivity and engagement.
But that is only half of the story. The street goes both ways. As much as negative people can influence us, we can influence them. And doing so makes it easier for us to choose happiness as well.
But here is the starting problem: How many times has someone has told you over the course of your lifetime “you can’t change other people”? When I give talks at companies nationwide, just about everyone raises their hand. So many of us have bought into this belief, whether we are conscious of it or not. But what we’re seeing now, based on more than a decade of research, is that this belief is not only disempowering—it is scientifically false.
You are changing others all the time. My favorite study showing how quickly we influence others was done at the University of California Riverside. Researchers asked three people to sit in a room together in silence for two minutes (awkward!), and they tested the participants’ moods before and after.
Time after time, the most non-verbally expressive person was able to significantly influence the moods of the other two people in room. If that person was anxious or had crossed arms, he or she made others feel more negative. Meanwhile a positive disposition where someone was smiling and appeared relaxed had a positive effect on the others. That is in just two minutes. Imagine what you could do with more time!
In my research at companies, schools and hospitals, we’ve seen the effects of what I call “broadcasting happiness.” (Former news broadcaster + happiness researcher = broadcasting happiness.) What I’ve come to see is that YOU too are a broadcaster, constantly transmitting information to people around as you move throughout your day.
The more you choose to broadcast a positive, optimistic, empowered mindset, the more you fuel business and education outcomes including 31% higher levels of productive energy, 37% higher sales, and a 23% decrease in stress related symptoms like headaches, backaches and fatigue.
To be highly influential, I’ve found your broadcast must primarily consist of two things: Success and Solutions (a formula the media could benefit from embracing more fully). My research team and I at the Institute for Applied Positive Research developed a Success Scale, which you can take yourself to test for the three greatest predictors of long-term levels of success at work: Work Optimism, Positive Engagement and Support Provision.
When our broadcast reflects a mindset fueled by rational optimism, positive engagement and support provision, we propel others toward success at the same time.
In brief, here is a look at these three major elements of our mindset that predict success:
Work Optimism measures how much you expect good things to happen, especially in the face of challenges, and whether you believe your behavior matters. Rational optimists, who take a realistic assessment of the present moment while maintaining a belief that their behavior will make a difference are more successful.
As a Work Optimist, you are five times less likely to burn out than a pessimist and three times more likely to be highly engaged in your jobs. You are also significantly more likely to get along with coworkers.
Positive Engagement measures your response in the face of stressful situations. In other words, this measures your story about stress. Those considered Engagement Masters on the Success Scale, who fall into the top quartile, perceive and broadcast the idea that stress is “a challenge as opposed to a threat,” and their brains become activated in the face of setbacks.
As an Engagement Master, you are twice as likely as all others to perform your assigned duties well and three times more likely than all others to be satisfied with your jobs.
Support Provision looks at how much support you provide to others at work. It may sound counterintuitive—to be successful, shouldn’t you be the one receiving support? Interestingly, knowing how much you give instead of receive is much more predictive of your success at work. This metric assesses how likely you are to step in to help others when they may be falling behind in their work or need a listening ear.
As a Work Altruist, you are much more engaged at work and 65 percent of you can expect a promotion in the next year.
Individuals consistently choosing to broadcast that they expect good things to happen, that challenges are surmountable, and that their success is tied to the success of colleagues change others for the better.
In my book “Broadcasting Happiness“, I share research-based tools we’ve found in our work to inoculate your brain against stress and negativity, while more positively influencing others at the same time. Here are a few of my favorite research-based simple communication strategies, which you can try out today.
These are tools you can use with or around the negative people in your life to lessen the toxic effects of their broadcast by supercharging yours:
1. Start with a Power Lead
People who lead off conversations and meetings by saying something positive and meaningful drive success. For instance, a manager who started team meetings with praise, increased the entire team’s productivity by 31% in three weeks. His formula was simple: He praised one person new and different each day in front of others.
2. Email Positivity
Start your day by sending a positive note to someone new and different each day for 21 days. In this email that should take no more than 2 minutes to write, praise or thank someone you know. After even just five days, your brain starts to see what meaningful social support you have in your life. Social support is the greatest predictor of long-term levels of happiness.
3. Share the Good
If you’re on social media, spread positive news about your life, people you know, or things going on in the world. In a study conducted by Cornell University on more than 689,000 Facebook users, researchers found a more positive feed encouraged people to share more positive stories.
Brighten someone’s day with the click of a button by sharing inspirational stories of people who have overcome challenges, reminding us all that our behavior matters.
Engage in any one or all of these habits to bolster your positive resources, and that negative person won’t seem as powerful. Your positive broadcast might also help open his or her mind to new ideas and possibilities—changing them forever.
And be sure to join Shawn Achor and I for the Wake Up & Inspire Happiness Video Workshop (free!) based on ideas from our new PBS/public television program “Inspire Happiness” airing across the US and Canada.
Michelle Gielan, national news anchor turned positive psychology researcher, is the bestselling author of “Broadcasting Happiness“. Michelle is the Founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research and is partnered with Arianna Huffington to study how transformative stories fuel success. She is an Executive Producer of “The Happiness Advantage” Special on PBS and a featured professor in Oprah’s Happiness course. Michelle holds a Master of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, and her research and advice have received attention from The New York Times, Washington Post, FORBES, CNN, FOX, and Harvard Business Review.
*Photo by Brian A. Jackson – Getty Images
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