If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Not everything works in every environment. This we know. All of us have committed a faux pas at one time or another: told the wrong joke in the wrong place, congratulated someone on a promotion they didn’t actually get, shared with a friend how much we loved her new boyfriend only to find out they had broken up the week before.The first time I tried to introduce Positive Psychology in my organization was one such time for me. There we were, my immediate peer group and I sitting around a conference table. I was practically beaming with my recently earned MAPP degree and was eager to share my newfound knowledge of Positive Psychology with my respected colleagues.
I had asked each person in my peer group to take the Values in Action (VIA), a survey designed by Christopher Peterson with Martin Seligman to identify character strengths and virtues. I had had so much success with it during personal experiences and coaching sessions that I fully expected the exercise to be well received and discussion to flow freely. So, I sat asking questions, waiting excitedly for the conversation to take on a life of its own, as I’d seen happen so many times before. After a few minutes that started to feel like hours, I realized (through my Positive Psychology induced haze) that something was off. The energy in the room was largely negative. Skepticism was abundant, most seemed to think the VIA a frivolous diversion when there was so much “real” work to be done. I was completely unprepared for this. This negativity was compounded by the fact that my supervisor, with whom I had enthusiastically discussed many times the benefits of taking the VIA, had been unable to find the time to take the assessment herself.
What to do? In my personal experience, the VIA had been the easiest “positive intervention” to work with. Friends and other colleagues had been excited to try this self-discovery tool, and were actively using knowledge of their strengths at home, work and play. Why didn’t this occur with my group of well respected, highly driven peers?
Maybe it just simply wasn’t the right fit. Perhaps the right tool, but the wrong time. It was too much, too soon. Like a small child who inadvertently grabs the hand of the wrong parent, I instantly recognized my “faux pas” and went in search of something else. Something that felt “right.”
I thought about the personalities of my work group. The majority are intense, time conscious, high achievers that could use an extra hour or two in each day to get their jobs done. Perhaps a 40-minute survey heavily focused on increasing knowledge of self and strengths, although a personal favorite of mine was not the best introduction for them to the world of Positive Psychology.
I needed something simple, concrete, understandable and applicable in our numbers driven, high-pressured business world. I opted for another favorite; an article written by Tom Rath of the Gallup Organization describing how important something called “PNR”, a positive to negative ratio of experiences, is to a healthy, engaged workplace. In it he describes how managers can positively impact their employees productivity through increasing their ratio of positive to negative encounters. Researchers including Barbara Frederickson, John Gottman and Marcial Losada have found that the most productive relationships have at least a 3:1 positive to negative ratio.
This subject matter seemed to be more engaging and created interest more easily; the article was eventually passed around to other executives across and within the organization. The terminology began to infiltrate interactions “What’s your PNR been today?” With this small success, my hope increased that there would be more opportunities to share the wonderful interventions and insights available. Ever the hopeful idealist, the Character Strengths and Virtues now sits on my desk and I know that it has been secretly perused by at least one former skeptic.
In Positive Psychology, as in all things, there is a right time, place, a right message to be conveyed, and a right medium to use. We can’t always get it right the first time, but we can always try, and if we have to, try, try again. The possibility of finally striking the right cord in the hopes of making a positive difference is well worth the effort.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
The Right Tool courtesy of Daren
Thanks for the reminder to stay the course, but change the strategy when needed. Your perseverance led to an important success.
Jen: Your article is so YOU! I can just envision the meeting you described. I wondered if you resorted to your primal scream to get attention – very effective… I really miss all you guys and reading your writings will be fun….
All the best, Doug
Great story, Jen! And a wonderful source of encouragement as all of us have and will face skepticism (not a bad thing, it can make for good science!) as well as enthusiasm. Positive psychology isn’t magic, but it does work for those willing to engage in its application.
:smile:Thank you for sharing your personal story! You must have “perserverance” as one of your top strengths! Last year, while working with a team of managers who were charged with designing a Leadership Development program for their peer group, I asked them to complete 2 self-assessment tools: the VIA & Gallup’s StrengthsFinder. We then had a meeting where we discussed the upsides/downsides of both and then I asked them to “vote” on the one they thought would be best received by their peer group. Readiness & fit are key. Thanks again, Margaret
I enjoyed your article Jen, and those smiling faces are so inviting and a good reminder of where we can be if we pay attention to our positivity-to-negativity ratio (PNR).
John Gottman and I independently discovered that successful marriages (John) and successful teams (myself) have a PNR of at leat 3 to 1 (2.9013 to be precise). I also found out that there is a ceiling to PNR; when we reach about 12 (11.6345 to be precise) we lose the the rich dynamics that are created when we stay in the so-called Losada Zone; i.e. a PNR above 2.9 and below 11.7. This is important to understand, because too much positivity can be detrimental to our functioning in a world that requires a healthy dose of negative feedback. Unfortunately, many marriages and teams in organizations have PNRs below 2.9 and end up in destructive dynamics that lead to divorce and inefficiency in organizations. Though the numbers are easy to remember, to live up to those numbers is not so easy. We are born with a negativity bias that had the useful function to protect us from the many dangers a more primitive world presented to us. Though the world we live in today has overcome many of these primitive dangers, we still need to be cautious, hence the place for a dose of negative feedback. Positive psychology focuses on the strengths and what is good in us and rightly so. But our research says, keep the PNR within the Losada Zone if you want to be safe and happy.
The POSITVE PSYCHOLOGY NEWS DAILY ROCKS That is a great story and good positive adaptation on your feet, Jen.
What you said is encouraging, if you don’t get it right the first time, try, try, try again.
I do this regularly with physical objects (material tasks).
However, I find it psychologically impossible to recover from the harshness of a ‘faux pas’ I become so self-conscious and so embarassed of it that it’s hard for me to try, try, try again.
Do you have any suggestions or insights as to why it’s easy for you to bounce back and keep trying despite your embarrassing put down and I don’t know how to muster the strength to try it again?
I would appreciate any useful input.
BTW, I’m a student. I’m getting an online Masters of Professional Studies in Executive Management and I came into this blog as a result of digging deeper into some of the concepts introduced in our Organizational Behavior class.
Perhaps you need to practice various ways to calm down your amygdala — the part of your brain that gets your body rev’d up to fight or flee. I’ve found that there’s no point arguing with myself when I’m deeply embarrassed and caught in the moment. A lower and more powerful part of my brain (the amygdala) is in control. But if I focus on calming that part of my mind down — deep breathing, meditation techniques, yoga, singing particular songs — then I can distance myself somewhat from that very judgmental internal voice.
According to the neuroscientist Richard Davidson, people who have more connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala tend to be more resilient — and even better, it is possible to increase the number of those connections with intentional activity such as meditation. So practicing ahead of time is prudent. Here’s a summary of a presentation he made — and a link to a 16-min film of it:
Here’s a related article about building resilience capacity: