Our Mind and Our Strengths

In this last article for 2009, I bring to you a series of odds and ends, mostly about mindfulness and strengths.


You know how it is, when you turn your attention to something it appears to be everywhere.

I have written before about mindfulness and meditation:

April 2008  – Wellbeing, Meditation and Mindfulness

May 2006 –  Mindfulness

July 2004 –  Meditation, Mediation or Medication?

There are increasing amounts of information and research supporting this very powerful practice.
Here are just some bits of information which I think will interest you.

1. Time affluence and employee well-being:

There are numerous references to mindfulness research on a Positive Psychology discussion list of which I am a member.  One of the articles concerned “Time Affluence”.  The researchers, Tim Kasser and Ken Sheldon, two well-known names in the Positive Psychology world, suggest that time affluence is a topic worthy of consideration by business executives when considering how to improve employee wellbeing. Time affluence is an important predictor of subjective well-being.  This is not simply about the time needed to just ‘chill out’, it’s the time required to invest in meaningful work, to do a job well, and to cultivate meaningful and supportive relationships.  These are essential to our wellbeing. Time affluence enables us to stay in the present (“a psychological characteristic demonstrated by past research to benefit well-being”), to be mindful and to be fully aware of our experiences.  Time poverty affects “physical health, civic engagement and family involvement” and can lead to cognitive overload.

The authors conducted studies and found that time affluence related positively to subjective well-being, job satisfaction and satisfaction with life. They reported that “individuals who experienced more time affluence apparently report higher levels of subjective well-being in part because they experience more mindfulness and greater satisfaction of their psychological needs”.  They also found that “the benefits of time affluence also occur for people who want to be busy”.

“People higher in time affluence reported experiencing more autonomy, competence and feelings of intimacy with others and reported spending more time pursuing activities related to personal growth, connections to others, and physical fitness; such experiences and activities apparently helped to satisfy people’s psychological needs, to the benefit of their personal well-being.”

(Reference: “Time Affluence as a Path Toward Personal Happiness and Ethical Business Practice” by Tim Kasser and Ken Sheldon, published in Journal of Business Ethics, 2009, 84:243-255)

2. Mindful Leadership:

This is the name of a book written by Michael Carroll who was in Australia recently.  The Australian Financial Review’s Boss Magazine attended his mindfulness workshop in September 2009 and wrote about this experience in last week’s Boss Magazine  “Carroll talks of mindful meditation as “another different muscle altogether; one that has grown profoundly flabby in the modern world”. Carroll argues that we should meditate because it can preserve our sanity”.  (Nb – Boss Magazine, free with the Fin Review, is published on the second Friday each month from Feb-Nov, and the first Friday in Dec.)

I attended a workplace well-being conference in Sydney in September 2009 at which Michael Carroll also spoke. He had much wisdom to share, and many reminders of the dangers of speed, busy-ness and the pressure to achieve things fast. “Busy-ness suggests importance and relevance”; we want to get somewhere fast and we want to be someone fast: “in the effort to get somewhere we overlook the need to just be somewhere and to be who we are. Mind training helps to remember and learn how to simply be”.   “The speeding mind is the essence of fear, it’s just a form of panic”.

Carroll mentioned that mindfulness is taught in many professions including law and the military.  The military uses meditation to manage post traumatic stress disorder and “a diplomat in US Defence is combining Martin Seligman’s positive psychology practices and mindfulness”.

Carroll also mentioned that just 2-3 mins of silence and sitting quietly in the classroom radically improves childrens’ attention spans.

3. Jon Kabat-Zinn in Australia:

Another very well-known figure in mindfulness.  Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn & Dr Saki Santorelli visited Sydney in November 2009 and led 7-day Professional Training Retreat. Kabat-Zinn also conducted dialogues with clinicians and health-care professionals at Westmead Hospital, Sydney and delivered a public talk. I know a number of people who attended the retreat or talk, and were very impressed.

For more information and for a recent radio interview, see: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/spiritofthings/stories/2009/2735241.htm

The ABC page includes links for the Center for Mindfulness and for Kabat-Zinn’s homepage.

4. The Dalai Lama and Martin Seligman:

It was a great joy last week to attend the Mind and Its Potential conference in Sydney week and to see the Dalai Lama, Martin Seligman, B. Allan Wallace and Marc Hauser on stage together for almost three hours, conversing about their areas of interest.  The discussion was moderated by Natasha Mitchell from ABC Radio National. No pun intended…it was a definitely a meeting of minds. This was the first time Seligman and the Dalai Lama had met each other.

5. Loving Kindness Meditation and Positive Emotions:

This is not so new.  Barbara Fredrickson, very well-known and highly respected in the positive psychology world, is famous for her research on positive emotions.  Over the recent years she has tested the ancient practice of loving kindness meditation.  She has found that it leads to improved happiness, enhanced positive emotions and enhanced personal resources. (Reference: “Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources” by Fredrickson, Coffee, Peck, Cohn, Finkel, published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2008, Vol 95)

Strengths and Acceptance

Here are two articles which you might like to read when you have a spare (!) moment.

Holiday Strengths”: http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/amanda-horne/200912035888

“Tis the Season for Acceptance”: http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/denise-quinlan/200912086227

Gottman on Relationships

In an article early last year, I referred to articles in the Australian Financial Review’s Boss Magazine and Harvard Business Review about Dr. John Gottman’s work and how it can be applied to work relationships. Gottman recently visited Australia to run workshops. In the positive psychology world, he is well-known for his 5:1 ratio of positive to negative language and how it can predict successful relationships. But actually, much more than the 5:1 is important. More generally, John Gottman is widely known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis through scientific direct observations published in peer-reviewed literature (see Note 1).

John Gottman Workshop – Sydney, May 2009

Earlier this year, I attended John Gottman’s one-day workshop in Sydney “The Art and Science of Love.” He was entertaining, informative, funny, engaging, and knowledgeable. We were all absorbed every moment of the day, partly because in all his examples and anecdotes, we could see a little bit of our own lives. And he didn’t use a single powerpoint slide.

“A relationship is a contract of mutual nurturance. Relationships have to be a rich climate of positivity. For relationships to be strong, the ideal climate is one teeming with positive interactions.” John Gottman, May 2009

In this article, rather than summarise Gottman’s work, I have provided quotes and reflections gathered during his presentation. Here are some highlights.

1. It’s more than 5:1

From the printed workshop notes: “Couples who were in a stable, happy relationship – couples who reported liking one another – had a ratio of positive to negative interactions of 5:1 when discussing an area of disagreement. Even when talking about an area of continuing disagreement, their relationships demonstrated a rich climate of acceptance, humour and interest in one another. In the Love Lab, [for] the relationships that were happy, the ratio was 20:1 of positive to negative expressions when simply conversing.” Gottman also pointed out that in relationships which are not going well, the positive to negative ratio is just 0.8:1.

2. What’s going right?

“Contempt is like sulphuric acid. Anger has to be channelled from the very beginning. It cannot be ‘catharted.’ In anger, you need to be very, very gentle.”

“Most arguments are about absolutely nothing.”

“When one is looking for mistakes, there is no such thing as constructive criticism.”

“Respect, gratitude, affection, friendship, and noticing what’s going right is a ‘habit of mind’ which creates a culture of appreciation.”

“Scan for things which go right, notice them more. This leads to more searching for positive things, to positive feedback, and therefore positive actions.”

3. Physiology and health

“When people stonewall, their heart rate goes up, and if it’s above 100 beats per minute, you can’t listen even if you want to. There is a shutting down and narrowing of attention. You can’t be empathetic and compassionate, can’t be creative or a problem solver. The physiology is restricting you. Soothing is essential to reduce the heart rate.”

“Relationships which work well lead to: healthier people who live longer and stronger; people who can cope better with adversity. Their well-being is higher.”

4. Mission, meaning and purpose

“Make it intentional how we move through time together. Those actions are about working towards shared meaning. The rituals of connection are very important.”

“Support each other’s roles, e.g. role of mother, father, friend. Let each other be who they are: this is what’s meaningful to them. Do we know our partner’s mission? Does the relationship support our separate missions in life?”

5. Friendship

Gottman explained that the basis of great relationships is a friendship built on strong emotional ‘bank accounts,’ fondness and admiration, and knowing one another. He emphasised the importance of knowing what is right about the partner, and showing an interest in them (“interest is the lowest level of positive affect”). Open ended questions are critical. Friendship is critical for repairing things after ‘regrettable events.’ How the receiver views her partner is critical when that partner makes attempts to repair the relationship.

6. The workplace

We can learn from Gottman’s work and how to apply it in the workplace: “We should build on what’s working well, rather than creating cultures which results in competition.” He also commented on the wonderful work of Marcial Losada: “Losada’s Lab is so much better than mine!”

7. Mindfulness

We learned that people need to enhance their sense of awareness and presence. Listen, tune in. Sometimes when people turn away, it can be because they lack awareness. Mindfulness enables people to become more aware of the other person’s needs and what it takes to bring out what is best in their partner:

“Every relationship is a cross cultural experience. There are two valid perceptions and realities which make a difference.”

8. Moving beyond gridlock

And finally some great words of wisdom:  “Many problems are not solvable, some are perpetual. They are inherited, they come with the relationship. We need to make relationships safe enough to move beyond the gridlock. Find the dreams within the conflict. Move from gridlock to dialog, but not to solve the problem. The problem is still there, but at least we’re now talking about the meaning behind the problem.”

A graphical version of this article first appeared here in Positive Psychology News Daily.

Note 1:
John Gottman, Ph.D. is widely known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis through scientific direct observations published in peer-reviewed literature. He is a Professor Emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington, and with his wife Dr. Julie Gottman now heads a non-profit research institute. Dr. Gottman found his methodology predicts with 90% percent accuracy which newlywed couples will remain married and which will divorce four to six years later. It is also 81% percent accurate in predicting which marriages will survive after seven to nine years.

Permission to be an Optimalist

Think about your workplace:

  • Is there a climate of psychological safety in which workers are allowed to learn from mistakes, and there is an acceptance of human fallibility?
  • Is there a suffocating climate of fear of failure?
  • Is there micromanagement to eliminate possibility of mistakes being made?

“The perfectionist manager loses out, as do his employees and the organization: the best people leave, and those who remain fail to learn.” (p140)

The Pursuit of Perfect

Perfectionism at work is just one of the many areas Tal Ben-Shahar addresses in his latest book “The Pursuit of Perfect”.  Whether you’re a perfectionist or not, this book is highly recommended. Tal interweaves his wealth of knowledge of well-researched concepts with compelling personal experiences. The result is a very readable analysis of the dangers of perfectionism and an outline of a healthier alternative that he calls “optimalism.” In Part 2, he applies the ideas to specific areas of life that are dear to his heart: education, parenting, relationships and the workplace. Throughout Tal interjects practical suggestions and advice for how to reduce perfectionist tendencies. In Part 3, he offers ten meditations on specific topics.

The central idea is that being an optimalist, in the state of positive perfection, is adaptive and healthy, while negative perfectionism is a maladaptive and neurotic state. Tal draws a link between healthy optimalism and the goal of Positive Psychology, the scientific study of optimal human functioning.

Continuum between Extreme Perfectionism and Optimalism

At one end of the continuum, extreme perfectionists reject reality, failure (and success) and painful emotions, and are rarely satisfied. At the other end of the continuum are the optimalists. They accept the realities of being human and the inevitable, mixed results that come with purposeful action. They’ve learned to appreciate “good enough.”

There are shades of grey between these extremes on the continuum. People can experience varying degrees of perfectionism and optimalism in different parts of their lives.

Reality for Extreme Perfectionists

  • Perfectionists reject the reality, constraints and experiences of the human condition.
  • They believe it is possible and desirable to be perfect, and constantly strive and expect to get there.
  • They set impossible goals and standards.
  • Unwilling to accept themselves, they are destined never to feel good enough.
  • In effect, they rarely give themselves permission to be human.

Failure/Success for Extreme Perfectionists

  • To the perfectionist, a good life is completely without failure.
  • Hurdles are unwelcome, mistakes are catastrophic, and criticisms are devastating.
  • So focused are they on the destination, they are unable to enjoy the journey.
  • Even though they might succeed, they never feel successful.
  • Since accomplishment is never perfect, they even reject success when it comes.

Emotions of Extreme Perfectionists

  • Because feelings can be so volatile and unpredictable, perfectionists do not permit a range of human emotions. They seek a constant and perfect tone, whether it’s positive or negative. There is no pleasure in accomplishment, and no pain allowed in failure.
  • Because perfectionists want to look good, they fear exposing their mistakes
  • They can be beset by procrastination and paralysis (“if I don’t try, I won’t fail”).
  • With high expectations they are hard on themselves and can be as hard on others.
  • They tend to be fault finders and pessimists.

Reality for Optimalists

  • They set high standards and ambitious goals that are attainable and grounded in reality.
  • Their goals are flexible and adaptable. They are willing to experiment, take risks, seek feedback, and see the benefits in criticism.
  • They are curious with a genuine desire to learn.
  • Optimalists value the journey, expect detours, and seek to learn from (not fear) failure: “learn to fail or fail to learn”.

Emotions of Optimalists

  • They permit a full range of emotions, accepting both the pleasant and unpleasant experiences.
  • Optimalists appreciate and savor success, and can find satisfaction in a less then perfect performance.
  • The “good enough” mindset results in more energy. Coping and learning increases self-confidence, encouraging optimalists to take on more challenges.
  • A rich emotional life of high self-esteem and self acceptance is the reward for being an optimalist.

Psychological health

In a recent email Tal explained to us, “Where we are on the continuum between optimalism and perfectionism is one of the better predictors of mental health. It doesn’t explain everything, but it explains a lot.” On curiosity and intrinsic motivation, Tal offered, “Optimalists tend to be more intrinsically motivated, and curiosity is a form of intrinsic motivation. Perfectionists are usually driven by their need to prove themselves, not by their desire to learn.”

Acceptance and mindfulness

Amongst the many practical ways to become an optimalist, Tal advocates active acceptance and reminds us of the importance of mindfulness:

“Active acceptance is about recognizing things as they are and then choosing the course of action we deem appropriate and worthy of ourselves.” (pp. 51-57)

“Accepting myself, sensitivity and all, is more likely to help me become more resilient. When I accept the emotion – when I accept myself – that’s when I am in the best mindset and heart-set to change.” (pp. 51-57)

“Permission to feel, to experience the experience rather than to ruminate on it; it’s about accepting emotions as they are, being with them rather than trying to understand and ‘fix’ them” (p. 68)

Finding peace

Tal’s practical “Time In” exercises, reflections, and meditations help the reader lessen the grip of perfectionism. However, Tal does not set up unrealistic expectations. No quick fix, no silver bullets. It takes time, hard work and regular practice.

This book reminds us to allow ourselves to have a good enough life and to give ourselves permission to be human. So begins the journey of moving towards optimalism, and to a place of peace, satisfaction, and happiness.


Many thanks to Tom Weirich, colleague, friend and fellow member of Positive Workplace International (PWI). Tom is an Advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors, and helps people thrive and prosper by working at the intersection of money and happiness.

After recently reading and reviewing Tal’s book for our PWI team, Tom and I co-wrote this article for Positive Psychology News Daily (PPND): [Book Review] Permission to be an Optimalist .

A big thank you to Kathryn Britton, PPND Associate Editor, Consultant and Coach.  Kathryn refined and improved the final version of the PPND article.  More about Kathryn >>

Finally, thank you Tal for the great book, and for also conversing with Tom and me over email and answering our questions.


Ben-Shahar, T. (2009) The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life. New York: McGraw Hill.

Authentic Leadership and Health

Last month’s topic was ‘zest at work’. This month I continue with this theme of vitality and thriving, and have summarised an article from the April 2009 issue of the Journal of Organizational Behavior: “Authentic leadership as a pathway to positive health” (Note 1)

“Authentic leaders provide a supportive and positive environment where positive mood is nurtured. The authentic leader influences followers through unconditional trust on the part of the follower, positive emotions, and a commitment to foster self-determination and growth in their followers. These transformational behaviors can also be conceptualized as a health promoting strategy in followers as well.”

Positive Health

The authors suggest that: “a positive health model helps explain highly effective leadership”. The four elements of the model connect emotion, body and mind:

  1. Leading a life of purpose
  2. Quality connections to others / positive relationships
  3. Positive self-regard and mastery
  4. Perception of negative events as paths to meaning and purpose

“Positively healthy individuals are the high achievers and most satisfied….health promotion as a role for leaders is not a secondary interest, but a component of the success of the leadership process.”

Positive Leadership

The authors explain the parallels between “highly effective, authentic leadership” and positive health. Healthy executives were found to have the capacity to form healthy relationships and supportive working relationships, causing a ripple effect on those around them. Further, being able to motivate and inspire others, to understand individuals’ needs, and to provide interesting challenging work, promotes health in employees.

“The ability to perform at an exceptional level as a leader and to facilitate this level of functioning in followers requires a comprehensive approach that at minimum includes and optimally emphasizes the positive.”

Leaders who function on positive emotion are “contagious in relationship with their followers….this contagion effect can lift an entire workgroup and work setting in terms of performance as well as health”. When leaders transfer positive emotions such as hope, resilience and optimism to followers, this leads to improved performance and enhances follower health, positive self-regard and mastery.  Followers are also better able to find meaning and purpose in negative events, and display resilience.

“Authentic leaders are leading followers toward a higher purpose and helping to promote their health.”

My observation: this article supports the valuable role of Positive Psychology and related fields. The evidence-based theories and practices from these fields help leaders to positively impact the kind of health promotion described above, thus improving employee and team productivity and performance.

Note 1: Macik-Frey, M., Quick, J.C., Cooper, C.L. (2009), Authentic leadership as a pathway to positive health, Vol 30; Issue 3, pp 453-458
All quotes above are drawn from this article.

Zest and Work

How’s your zest? Your vitality, energy, exuberance, vigor, engagement? Do you approach your work with “anticipation, energy, and excitement”?

These are important questions because zest is linked with enhanced psychological wellbeing and better physical health, which in turn affect such things as job performance, reduced turnover and absenteeism. “People who are zestful are more likely to pursue flow (engagement) in their everyday activities and to regard their lives as meaningful.”

Zest and Work is the title of an article in the February 2009 issue of the Journal of Organizational Behavior (Note 1). The researchers, some big names in Positive Psychology, already knew that zest predicts general life satisfaction. This was based on their extensive work with the VIA (Values in Action) classification of character strengths. Wanting to extend their research into workplace settings, the researchers were interested in how zest is related to work satisfaction, and how zest relates to the concept of work as a calling.

Work satisfaction
Work satisfaction and commitment is ‘not simply a function of the work itself’. Other factors include: safety, security, challenge, variety, and responsibility.  Further, what the employee brings to work is also important, such as their levels of happiness, enthusiasm, and ability to be socially engaged.

Work as a calling
Work which is defined as a ‘calling’ occurs when employees are motivated to work because it is fulfilling, is intrinsically rewarding, and is ‘central to one’s very existence’. Such workers have high work satisfaction and take fewer sick days, and work units experience higher morale and better communication.

Research Results

The study of 9,803 participants confirmed the hypothesis that ‘zestful individuals would be more likely to experience their work as a calling and [would be] more satisfied with their work and with life in general’. Of all of the VIA strengths, ‘zest was the single best predictor of work as a calling’.

Enhancing Zest

The researchers list some of the many ways to enhance zest.  For example, optimising health and fitness, having a hopeful and optimistic disposition, having a supportive supervisor and good social and work relationships, cultivating gratitude, and seeing where one’s work fits into the bigger vision.

What can we do?

Zest is within our personal control, and is also affected by our workplace settings. Executives can take an interest in the ‘psychology of energy’ that drives their organisations. They can deepen their understanding of how employees’ levels of zest are affected by such things as workplace culture, communications, conversations, policies and procedures.

This is where the practical application of Positive Psychology, Positive Organizational Behavior, Positive Organizational Scholarship and Appreciative Inquiry can help executives to build positive workplaces where people are zestful and thriving.

Note 1: Peterson, C., Park, N., Hall, N., Seligman, M.E.P. (2009), Zest and Work, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Vol 30; Issue. 2, pp 161-172
All quotes above are drawn from this article.

Respect at Work

Last month I heard an interesting radio interview on workplace incivility. In line with the theme of my (usually) monthly emails, I reflected on how this month’s email could kick off the year with tips that help build thriving people, thriving workplaces.  Below is some information from the radio interview and some information drawn from some of the past five years’ emails.

Workplace Incivility

Christine Pearson, Professor of Management at Arizona’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, is an expert in workplace incivility and was recently interviewed by ABC Radio National. Here are some extracts: Incivility is the seemingly inconsequential acts which have a negative impact.  It is at the low end in terms of intensity.  It can be denied, joked off, and some would say they don’t mean harm.  Incivility is not ‘out and out’ harassment and bullying.  It includes sarcasm, not being helpful, talking down, sending bad news via email, belittling, talking badly about people behind their back, or simply being unhelpfully unresponsive. Although the behaviour might be subtle, the costs are not.  People reduce their hours of work, reduce effort, lose focus, their customer service suffers and about one in eight people leave their job.  The bad behaviour ripples out and can corrode people’s values so that they too begin to act in similar ways. This happens when people are the on the receiving end of incivility, or if they witness it. Less than 10% of people report incivility because they think they might be ridiculed, or encouraged to get over it and toughen up.  Workplaces might not be aware that incivility is occurring because, unlike bullying and harassment, there are usually few corporate policies or guidelines on how to deal with this more subtle behaviour.

“Negative interactions had a fivefold strong effect on mood than positive interactions – so nasty people pack a lot more wallop than their more civilised counterparts” (“The No A-hole Rule”, Robert I. Sutton Ph.D., Warner Business Books, 2007)

A Thriving Workplace

Extracts from my previous emails:

Focus everyone’s attention on what it takes to be a decent human being, and how to uplift and energise others around them.  Encourage behaviours that promote positivity and help an organisation to thrive and flourish and to be a positive workplace. Because emotions are contagious, each person needs to consider their impact on those around them.

  • Leaders have a role in inspiring positive moods and in creating the conditions that promote positivity
  • Leadership is closely linked to one’s humanity
  • “The new CEO will be a healer” (Bulletin Magazine, June 2005)
  • The best managers encourage friendships in the workplace by creating the conditions under which such relationships thrive
  • All employees deserve a manager who cares about their general wellbeing
Respectful relationships
  • It’s about hearts, minds and souls; workplaces should be full of “energy, light and vibrancy”
  • Developing a climate of appreciation in people, teams and organisations leads to better performance, more engaged workers, more satisfied staff.  It lifts the individual and collective mood and creates an attractive place where people want to work
  • Give attention to people; show respect; value them. Treat people with respect and caring: they want to belong
  • The motivation of people depends on human connectedness
  • Appreciation, valuing each other, is the building block for successful workplace relationships

“Respect can be a powerful signal to individuals regarding their standing not only as employees but as people” (Knowledge@Wharton “Lack of Organizational Respect Fuels Employee Burnout”)

“I am more aware of the attitude I bring to work and how it affects my colleagues around me.  I also make a conscious effort if I notice that someone is not the happiest or if they are super busy, I offer to get them lunch or remind them that they need a break or simply offer help.  Sometimes by just saying hello to someone and smiling or giving them a nice compliment can really change the person’s perspective.” (A client’s comment on how they treat others)

All the best in your quest to create the kind of workplace that brings “energy, light and vibrancy” and enriches employees’ hearts, minds and souls. I wish you well for 2009.

With Thanks

It’s inspiring to hear people acknowledge the good things in their lives, particularly if they have experienced troubles and difficulties.

As we come to the end of another year, it’s timely to reflect on those things for which we are grateful.

The theme of my regular emails is to bring information which helps you to thrive in your lives and your work. What follows is some great evidence about why gratitude is a good thing for us all.

One of the recognised authorities in the field of research on gratitude is Robert Emmons Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at UC Davis and Editor-In-Chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology. He recently published his book on the psychology of gratitude: “Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier”. Here are some points from his research.

About gratitude

  • is outward-directed and other-directed
  • helps with humility: we would not be where we are without the contribution of other people or the things which create the goodness in our lives); involves showing respect for others by recognising their good intentions in helping us
  • is an acknowledgement that there are good things even we are feeling unhappy or if times are bad
  • is a virtue as well as an emotion
  • is morally and intellectually demanding (not fluffy, warm and fuzzy) is a choice, and is not always easy

Why does gratitude matter?

  • contributes positively to friendships and civility
  • results in increased connectedness, improved relationships and altruism
  • those with high gratitude have better relationships, and are more likely to protect and preserve those relationships
  • when people report feeling grateful, thankful and appreciative, they also feel more loving, forgiving, joyful and enthusiastic, have higher levels of positive emotions, are more resilient and can cope more effectively with stress. They may recover more quickly from illness, and benefit from greater physical health and fewer health complaints
  • protects us from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed and bitterness
  • to improve sleep, count blessings, not sheep. Counting blessings may counteract the effects of hedonic adaptation: if we consciously remind ourselves of our blessings, it should become harder to take what we have for granted
  • when we notice what we are grateful for, we are not noticing what we lack

The effect on our bodies

  • drives out the toxic emotions of resentment, anger and envy
  • gratitude and appreciation can restore the natural rhythms of the heart
  • 23% average reduction in the stress hormone cortisol and 100% increase in the hormone DHEA, which reflects a state of physical relaxation. Increases in DHEA are correlated with increases in warm-heartedness (kindness, tolerance, appreciation, compassion)

Gratitude at Work

Aside from the scientific research, what do my clients say? Here are some comments from workshop participants on the subject of gratitude at work:

  • helps me to see the good things
  • keeps me honest
  • reminds me why I am here
  • helps me to manage change
  • maintains perspective
  • helps when I don’t have control over things
  • it gets us working at the heart level, and gets us out of our heads

“There is as much greatness of mind in acknowledging a good turn, as in doing it.” (Seneca)

“Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” (Jean Baptiste Massieu)


Many thanks to each and every one of you, my readers, friends, family, colleagues, and clients. Wishing you all the very best for the holiday season and the New Year.

Letting Go

This month I’m delighted to send you this piece which was co-written by Yencie Fogden (colleague and friend) and myself. Yencie and I have enjoyed interesting experiences and conversations about the application of positive psychology in the workplace. See below highlights, on the challenging topic of forgiveness.

Have you, or someone you know, been annoyed, hurt or wronged by another person? Are you still holding onto that hurt? Are you hanging onto baggage, giving power to the past, being held back from moving on, being controlled by the past, holding onto negativity?

Forgiveness is the “queen of the virtues”; it “frees us from the troubled past”; it is about “finding a way to free oneself from the claws of obsession about the hurt”. (Chris Peterson, 2007)

Forgiveness at Work

When working with people and teams on this area, we have observed rich and insightful discussions about the role of forgiveness in the workplace. Far from being seen as soft and irrelevant, executives say that forgiveness is essential if people are to lead successful lives, projects, teams and organisations.

The ramifications of unforgiving teams can be destructive. The effects of unresolved issues amongst team members can lead to high levels of absenteeism, high levels of staff turnover, poor team performance & poor health. Effective team management relies on being able to forgive one another and move on.

During a recent positive psychology workshop, participants highlighted a number of areas where forgiveness impacted their work area outcomes. The group determined in order to be a high performing team, learning to forgive others is not only important for the leader but for the team itself. They identified the need to build a ‘culture of forgiveness’ where they learn to identify wrongs, support each other through the journey of forgiveness and let go of past mistakes.

“When we refuse to forgive someone who has wronged us we rob ourselves of the ability to influence or impact them. And we live in the prison of our own unforgiveness because what we cannot forgive we cannot let go of” (Addington, 2008).

Forgiveness is not condoning, nor pretending that a wrong is right. The process of forgiveness benefits you more than the person who has wronged or hurt you. It allows you to see the big picture, and releases you to move into the present moment. It is not easy, nor quick; it happens in small stages. It is a process that transcends the rational mind and calls on your wisdom, and has psychological and physical benefits. It is difficult to look ahead until you begin to forgive and have a desire to move on.

The benefits are worth working towards:

  • broader and richer social relationships
  • greater feelings of empowerment and life satisfaction
  • increased serenity, generosity, agreeableness and emotional stability
  • greater strength and excellence, and improved performance
  • less physical illness and faster recovery from disease and injury
  • less anger, depression, anxiety, hostility, passive-aggressive behaviours

David Bright (Assistant Professor in the Department of Management at Wright State University) suggests that there are three modes of reaction to a hurt or transgression:

  1. Begrudging (perpetuates negativity, survival/fight/compete, self-protection – Forgiveness is an illusion)
  2. Pragmatic (neutralises the negativity, self interest, compromise – Forgiveness is a necessity)
  3. Transcendent (transforms the negativity, learn, transcend – Forgiveness is a life choice)

Forgiveness “enables the offended person to transcend negative emotions, to think broadly about the negative experience, and to consider how it might lead to positive outcomes. Negative experiences present an opportunity for learning. From this perspective, forgiveness becomes a life-choice and an opportunity for achieving one’s highest potential as a person or leader.” (David Bright, 2006)

Forgive, because some day you will need forgiveness.

Bright, D.S. (2006) ‘Forgiveness as an attribute of leadership’ in: Leading with Values by E. Hess and K. Cameron
Cameron, K.S., Dutton, J., Quinn, R.E. (2003) Positive Organizational Scholarship
Dowrick, S. (2005) Choosing Happiness
Goleman, D (2006) Social Intelligence
Luthans, F., Youssef, C.M., Avolio, B.J. (2007) Psychological Capital
Peterson, C. (2006) A Primer in Positive Psychology
Addington T.J, (2008) Leading From the Sandbox: Develop, Empower and Release High Impact Ministry Teams
Seligman, M.E. (2003) Authentic Happiness

Building Trust

Can an organisation explicitly enhance trust through targeted policies? What does trust involve; what are the actions which build trust?

Trust builds high quality connections

“Trusting means acting toward others in a way that conveys your belief in their integrity, dependability and good motives. Positive words and actions that create trust include sharing valuable information, appropriate self-disclosure, inclusive language, giving away control and responsibility, granting access to valuable resources, and soliciting and acting on input.  We also create trust by the things we do not do or say, including accusing others of bad intent, demeaning others, check-up behaviours and surveillance, and punishing people for errors.” (Dutton, 2003, p106).

Building trust in organisations

The July 2008 edition of the Journal of Management Studies includes research about how organisations can purposefully enhance interpersonal trust through explicit trust-building policies. The article’s authors researched two organisations: one “has implemented policies aimed at building interpersonal trust while the other has trust-neutral policies. In the latter organisation trust is left to unguided interactional dynamics.’’  (Six & Sorge, 2008, p. 858).

The authors found that the organisation which had explicit trust-building policies had a higher occurrence of trust building actions and higher levels of trust amongst employees.

Organisational policies which contributed to building trust

The authors identified four kinds of interdependent policies in action at the organisation which had trust-building policies:

1. Create a culture in which relationships are important and showing care and concern for the other person’s needs is valued. (Included: promoting and espousing a relationship-oriented culture; individual actions go beyond self interest and are concerned about the other person’s interests and a wish to maintain a mutually rewarding relationship.)

2. Facilitation of (unambiguous) relationship signalling among colleagues. (Included: training in interpersonal communication, relationship management skills, self confidence and managing confrontation; ‘saying ‘yes’ to the person and ‘no’ to their behaviour’; opportunities for staff to meet and relate informally; promotion of positive communications including appreciation and compliments; taking time to talk through issues.)

3. Explicit socialisation to make newcomers understand the values and principles of the organisation and how ‘we doing things around here’. (Included: explicit communication of the values and principles; teach the common language used to enhance interpersonal communications; regular reinforcement of the norms and values.)

4. Mechanisms to manage, match and develop employees’ professional competencies. (Included: clear descriptions and definitions of roles and responsibilities; developing talent, competence and experience with the intention to build performance and self-confidence.)

Trust-building actions

In their research, the authors used their questionnaire which includes twenty trust building actions. (Six & Sorge, 2008, p. 879). [NB – It’s interesting to notice the prevalence of those actions which promote positive conversations, positive emotions and psychological well-being.]

1.      Give positive feedback (=compliment) in a private meeting

2.      Give responsibility to the other person

3.      Show care and concern for the other person

4.      Give compliment in a public meeting

5.      Show a bias to see the other person’s actions as well intended

6.      Clarify general expectations early on in a new relationship

7.      Give negative feedback in a constructive manner

8.      Seek the counsel of others

9.      Be open and direct about task problems

10.   Give help and assistance

11.   Take responsibility (don’t pass the blame)

12.   Receive help and assistance

13.   Explore specific expectations in detail as the relationship develops

14.   Be honest and open about your motives

15.   Process and evaluate how effectively you are working together at regular intervals

16.   Surface and settle differences in expectations

17.   Disclose information in an accurate and timely fashion

18.   Recognise the legitimacy of each other’s interests

19.   Initiate and accept changes to your decisions

20.   Make yourself dependent on the other person’s actions

“We have in essence argued that for trust to be built in long term work relationships, both individuals need to have stable intentions to maintain the relationship and forego opportunities for opportunism.” (Six & Sorge, 2008, p. 881)


Management Commitment

The authors noted that the organisation’s specific policies can’t necessarily be ‘generalised’ and mechanically applied to all other organisations. The research does however point to the general areas which can be adapted in other organisations. They also concluded: “Management’s actual behaviour may be as important if not more so, than any policies it implements for stimulating interpersonal trust building …. policies require strong top level commitment by example rather than proclamation. ” (Six & Sorge, 2008, p. 881)


Dutton, J. (2003) Energize Your Workplace: How to Create and Sustain High-Quality Connections Work. Jossey-Bass  (Psychologist Jane Dutton, from the University of Michigan is one of the lead people behind the field of Positive Organizational Scholarship)

Six, F. & Sorge, A. (2008) Creating a High-Trust Organization: An Exploration into Organizational Policies that Stimulate Interpersonal Trust Building, Journal of Management Studies, 45:5, July 2008, pp 857-883

Friends at work

How would you respond: “I have a best friend at work” (yes? no?)

Research by the Gallup Organization, based on surveys of 10 million people, reveals that this is one of the best predictors of an organisation’s successful performance. (Note 1)

Why is having a ‘best friend at work’ important? Friends:

  • Provide a source of emotional support and offer encouragement
  • Help reduce stress and increase health
  • Affect our biology and help lower blood pressure
  • Engender trust, which is critical for success at work
  • Provide positive, contagious energy
  • Add meaning in our lives
  • Value, tolerate, appreciate us and cheer us on
  • Are more likely to engage in sharing information, and conversing in non-threatening ways

Friends at work are vital to one’s engagement, satisfaction and motivation at work.

“When you don’t have a friend at work there is no-one to brag to, you can’t share the successes and savour the good moments.” (A client, August 2007)

Gallup’s research shows that:

  • People who have a “best friend” at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work
  • Close friendships at work boosts employee satisfaction by almost 50%
  • The quality of the friendships is the best predictor of happiness and life satisfaction
  • People with at least three close friends at work were 46% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their job and 88% more likely to be satisfied with their life

Why does it have to be a ‘best’ friend?’ Isn’t having friendships at work dangerous? “Gallup itself would have dropped the statement if not for one stubborn fact: it predicts performance. Something about a deep sense of affiliation with the people in an employee’s team drives him/her to do positive things for the business he/she otherwise would not do…..Subsequent large-scale, multi-company analyses confirmed that this question is a scientifically salient ingredient in obtaining a number of [critical] business-relevant outcomes.” (Note 2)

From the Australian Financial Review (7 August 2007)

“It may be time to revise the saying that work and private lives should not mix. A survey from the US shows that employees believe productivity improves when colleagues are also friends….63% of employees think being pals is better for business.”

From the Australian Financial Review’s Boss Magazine (May 2007)

“Research shows that employees who have a friendly relationship with the boss that doesn’t overstep the mark are usually happier and more productive.”

“The best managers encourage friendships in the workplace by creating the conditions under which such relationships thrive.” (Note 2)

Is ‘nurturing friendships’ in your strategic business plan?
In your personal development plan, where do ‘friendships’ feature?
What are you doing to be a better friend to your co-workers?
What are you doing to create an environment at work in which friendships can flourish?


(1) The Gallup Organization developed their Q12 in the late 1990s. The Q12 comprises the twelve questions which are most powerful in explaining employees’ productive motivations on the job i.e. whether people are engaged, not engaged, or actively disengaged at work. Gallup now has 10 million sets of responses, in 41 languages across 114 countries.

(2) “12: The Elements of Great Managing” Rodd Wagner & James Harter (2006)

(3) Other sources: “Social Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman (2006), and “Vital Friends” by Tom Rath (2006)


This article…
…aims to provide you and your teams with information for your professional and personal development. Topics are based on areas of interest raised by clients and colleagues, with material drawn from journals, books, articles and shared experiences.

© Amanda Horne Pty Ltd, September 2007