Do you know someone who is always negative?
Is it possible to inspire happiness in others?
Michelle Gielan, former national CBS News anchor turned positive psychology researcher, is the best-selling author of Broadcasting Happiness: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change. She is the Founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research.
I recently had the opportunity to ask speak with her about her fascinating research into happiness, positivity, and our impact on others.
Create Positive Change
You’ve been a successful broadcaster at CBS News. But your work now is about a different type of broadcasting. You say we broadcast happiness and that creates positive change in those around us. How did this realization come to you?
People talk about how negative the news can be—and they are right. As the anchor of two national news programs at CBS, I saw how not only were the stories largely negative but also told in a disempowering way. We rarely talked about potential solutions.
At the height of the recession, we started broadcasting solutions for every problem we featured. We called it Happy Week. Drawing on positive psychology, the series centered on actions taken to foster happiness (and quite frankly peace of mind!) during some of our biggest financial challenges.
We received the greatest viewer response of the year, but more importantly, this was a powerful example of research in action. I wanted to know more about creating empowerment in others—so I quit to study positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Now as a positive psychology researcher, I see the toxic effects of a constant stream of negative news on the brain. In a study I conducted with researcher Shawn Achor and Arianna Huffington, we found that watching just three minutes of negative news in the morning can lead to a 27% increased chance of you having a bad day as reported 6-8 hours later. The negative mindset we adopt first thing sticks with us all day.
But CBS News also showed me a better way—which is something I now share at talks at companies and organizations—specifically how to talk about the negative in a way that leaves people feeling empowered and ready to act. In our follow-up study published in Harvard Business Review, we found that by pairing a discussion of problems with solutions, you can fuel creative problem solving in someone else by 20%. For managers, this means you can talk about the negative without decimating your team.
Looking at all this research, I had an epiphany: we are all broadcasters. What’s your broadcast? As you move throughout your day talking to your colleagues, family and friends, where do you focus their attention? Some facts and stories fuel success; others don’t. In my book Broadcasting Happiness: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change, I share the science and tools to disrupt negative thinking and revamp our broadcast to fuel success at work and beyond.
Using the science, our clients have been able to increase sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars. Personally, I’m so happy I now get to broadcast these kinds of stories about individuals and organizations creating positive change. This is so much more inspiring.
The Work Optimist, you point out, is five times less likely to burn out and three times more engaged than the pessimist. Is it possible to move up the continuum and be more positive? What techniques work to do this?
Yes! The most inspiring thing about the results of our research is that many of the elements of our mindset that predict success, like Work Optimism, are malleable. Work optimism is the belief that good things can happen, especially in the face of challenges, and that our behavior matters. We created a validated assessment that tests people on their levels of Work Optimism and two other predictors of long-term success at work. (Test yourself here.)
If you find you’re scoring lower than you wish on Work Optimism, you can adopt a simple 30 second habit: Use the Power Lead. Make sure your lead sentence in conversations or meetings at work is positive. If you start conversations with how tired, sick, or stressed you feel, your body follows, as does the rest of the conversation.
We are taught to mimic the social patterns of others, so if someone starts a sales call with, “I’ve been swamped lately,” then both individuals start to feel more stressed and overwhelmed, which can oftentimes kill the sale. In our fast-paced world, you might have time to relay only one piece of social information at work. If you make it negative, then you get stuck in that pattern. Power leads can be simple, such as answering “How are you?” with some good news, such as, “Doing great! Had an awesome weekend with the family. My daughter scored a goal at lacrosse!”
What are a few ways to become a better broadcaster, able to motivate and communicate with power and results?