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