10/1/2004 | 8 MINUTE READ

The Importance of Being Positive

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How you view yourself, your colleagues and your company can help or hinder your career.


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How you view yourself, your colleagues and your company can help or hinder your career. If, for example, you cannot respect the other person’s point of view, your chances of working together harmoniously are substantially reduced.

If you are reluctant to give, or share, credit with others, they will not be anxious to work with you.

In short, positive attitudes are crucial to personal success. Four of the most important are:

  1. A realistic outlook.
  2. A positive approach to problems.
  3. The habit of questioning the status quo.
  4. Flexibility.

So important are these, they deserve some examination.

A realistic outlook. As in life itself, in business it can be exceedingly dangerous to avoid reality. Problems do not disappear simply because we ignore them. Promotions do not materialize out of the blue through wishful thinking.

Although occasionally it is good strategy to emphasize the positive aspects of an essentially negative situation, don’t accept only rosy interpretations of harsh facts. The more you allow yourself to stray from reality, the harder it is to see things as they truly are. And if you build your work on faulty premises, your work product is bound to suffer.

A positive approach. If you are convinced that you cannot do something, it’s 10 to 1 that you will fail. It doesn’t follow that the reverse is always true—that if you simply believe you can do something, you will succeed. But self-confidence certainly helps.

Given two employees of similar abilities—one who always finds reasons why something cannot possibly be done and one who approaches a project or a problem positively—managers will be more inclined to give the tougher assignments and ultimately greater responsibility to the “tryer,” not the “cryer.”

The habit of questioning the status quo. Unless you question the way things are done today, you are unlikely to devise ways of doing them better tomorrow. It’s as simple as that.

Employees who do what is expected of them—but no more—are quickly identified as merely competent, not contenders for any dramatic upward movement. Senior management is not looking for acceptance of Things-As-They Are in their people. They are looking for individuals with critical and experimental attitudes, who are in the habit of questioning old policies and are constantly alert to better ways. If you do not habitually examine your work environment with a view toward improving it, you will never be given the opportunity to try.

Flexibility. Employees, supervisors or managers who formed specific attitudes early in their careers and still live by them are frequently admired for having the courage of their convictions. But if they cannot revise their ideas under changing condi-tions, they are probably murdering other people’s good ideas and morale in general.

Dealing successfully with changing business conditions requires, above all, flexibility. That is, we must keep our minds open and receptive to new ideas and trends. Problems are always changing. Why shouldn’t solutions as well?

Of course, it’s important to differentiate between flexibility and wishy-washiness. The inability to reach a conclusion after hearing both sides of a story is not flexibility. It’s indecisiveness. Your best safeguard is to keep yourself up-to-date and informed on issues. Listen carefully and critically to others’ ideas. Read widely, both inside and outside your field. And police the tendency to jump to conclusions.


Getting Through Those “Summer-Is-Over” Blues

You’ve put the last of the vacation snapshots into your album…stored the outdoor grill…and noticed that the days are growing shorter. You feel all right, but something is wrong.

It’s not you. It’s the turning of the seasons. Of all the changes we experience annually, the change from summer to fall is probably the most difficult to get through, for it is then that we have to gear back up for the “real world.”


To minimize the trauma:

Recognize the problem. Understand that, while some make the transition more easily than others, there is a period of adjustment for everybody.

See the year as a continuum, with one season paving the way for the next. In a sense, although summer is over, it is also on its way back.

Consider the joys of fall. Brisk weather, crystal clear nights, Thanksgiving—these are just a few of autumn’s delights. Every season has its charms and if it’s time to rake the leaves, this also marks the end of having to mow the lawn.

Get involved in some project at work that will absorb you so completely that you won’t have time to mope over the departure of summer.

When Rumors Sweep Your Company
“They’re going to automate the whole plant.”
“That foreign outfit is buying us out and closing this facility.”
“They’re cutting out all bonuses.”

It’s been said that a lie can race around the world while the truth is still lacing its boots.

Rumors can be created by the misinterpre-tation of facts by employees, or by boredom, anxiety, wish-fulfillment, frustration, etc.—almost any human frailty. And some can be extremely costly. What can you do about them?

The most fundamental way to keep the rumors down is to keep the channels of communication open. Rumors multiply in the absence of reliable information and although bulletin board announcements and in-house publications are helpful, there is no substitute for good manager-employee communications.

Defensive attempts to disprove rumors have been found to be ineffective in discrediting rumors. The opposite approach —a positive presentation of the facts of the matter—is a far more powerful antidote.

It is important that employees have faith in the credibility of management’s communications. The manager attempting to present the company’s story accurately and convincingly will be far more effective if he has, over a period of time, built a record of truthfulness and reliability in dealing with his employees.

Understanding the psychology of rumors can help you prevent them. Learn to analyze rumors in terms of the anxieties or other attitudes that are behind them, then tackle them on their own ground.


Handling the Delicate Ego

Every organization has its share of vulnerable, thin-skinned people. At times unexpected sensitivity is also found in the thick-skinned extrovert who is in a somewhat precarious position. Perhaps this employee is undergoing a kind of trial period or is under pressure to perform.

Special problems arise when criticizing these employees because reactions are likely to be out of all proportion to what you say. Such reactions either blind them to what you’re trying to get across, or they go away so worried that they don’t function effectively for days.

There’s always the temptation to follow up on these people too closely. The usual result is an exhausted manager and a harried, ineffective employee. It’s better not to ride herd on vulnerable employees. Because they are sensitive, they will pick up a word or a subtle reference to the problem and often that’s all that is necessary. Chances are that if you’ve given an indication of what you want, they’re working on it.

But suppose subtlety hasn’t worked and you have to be more outspoken?

Here mixing criticism with praise can be effective. If some accomplish-ment hasn’t been mentioned before and honestly deserves praise, it will help your employee keep your criticism in perspective.

One manager who uses this sandwich technique describes another method that’s proven helpful. “You know the employees whose hearts pound a little whenever you call them in? Well, try to signal in advance. That way there is no shock and they are listening when I get to the critical point. I just say something like, ‘George, you want me to be perfectly frank with you, don’t you?’ This approach gives them a chance to get set. I’ve found it very helpful. In accordance with their supersensitive antennae, vulnerable employees often get your point sooner than you might expect. They also react unfavorably to repetition so you’ll rarely err if you change the subject sooner than you would with most people.


Are You Communicating?

One of the marks of successful managers is the extent to which they communicate with their people. How do you rate? Look over the following checkpoints to see where improvements may be necessary.

Effective managers:

  • Keep informed on how their people are thinking and feeling
  • Encourage their people to express their ideas and opinions
  • Listen with understanding and purpose
  • Respond intelligently to criticisms of their own actions
  • Handle questions satisfactorily
  • Keep their people informed on changes in policies and procedures and all other matters affecting their work.
  • Recognize good work and express appreciation
  • Explain the why of their decisions
  • Make significant contributions in meetings, both in listening and speaking
  • Inform higher levels of management of their employees’ accomplishments and development.


Trim These Time Wasters From Your Life

If you could somehow cut down on the idle chatter, pointless phone calls, unproductive personal visits and so on that fill your working hours, you might be amazed to learn how many minutes you literally throw away on the job.

Nobody is totally innocent; we all waste time. But we have an ace in the hole. We can learn to do better. Here are some quick time-savers you can implement immediately.

Stand. When visitors drop by unannounced simply to chat, be pleasant, but get on your feet and stay on them. Once you both sit down, you may be in for some time killing that throws off your entire schedule.

Keep phone conversations short. When you initiate the call, tell your story in a few words, always pleasantly, with an opportunity for the other party to reply quickly.

Keep meetings under 30 minutes. You can usually accomplish much more in a half-hour discussion, with a carefully planned agenda, than in an unstructured meeting lasting an hour or more.

Write short letters. Just as a reporter tells a news story in the first lead lines, tell your reader in the first sentences exactly what he or she wants to know.