Optimism in the Workplace
Optimism in the workplace involves not only expecting positive outcomes but also explaining them in a manner coherent with such outcomes. Leading others with optimism means dealing with the chaos of uncertainty by formulating a successful expectation despite the uncertainty. Life is full of uncertainty and that’s as true of the workplace as it is of any aspect of life. Optimistic leaders have a strong perceived sense of self-efficacy; they believe in their teams as well. Uncertainty for the pessimist can lead to “paralysis of analysis,” so worried about the uncertain details that there is more fear than courage. The optimist, on the other hand, takes charge and “creates” success out of uncertainty.
Making work meaningful and enjoyable means being more comfortable in our own skins at work and connecting at a level that is relevant to us. The worst-case scenario is hiding our true personalities to conform with what we think is expected of us and communicating at what feels like a very superficial level. So what can you do, as one single individual, to make your work experience more meaningful and enjoyable? Try being more open.
Dr. Jonathan Smythe considered the hypothesis that keeping our authentic self hidden is a drain on our energy-not only in terms of work productivity but also in terms of our general health. It’s hard to be optimistic when you feel drained and listless. Optimism is generally characterized by energetic momentum, not lethargic passivity. Apparently, it takes a lot of energy to hide your authentic self.
So what are the benefits of being more open? Dr. Smythe recruited 465 patients suffering from either arthritis or asthma. Half the group was instructed to write 20 minutes a day, three times a week, about their daily activities in a framework of time management. The other half was instructed to write about “the most stressful experience they had ever undergone.” The results of this study proved the benefits of openness. Those who wrote about the stressful experiences ended up substantially healthier. The arthritic patients writing about stress showed an overall 28 percent improvement while the other group showed no improvement. The asthmatic patients writing about their stressful experiences showed a 47 percent improvement rate as compared to a 24 percent improvement rate in those writing about less stressful, daily experiences. Sure, the “stress” group felt worse immediately after the writing experience, but over time they showed significant improvement in overall health. It’s similar to have a bad tooth pulled-it hurts in the process but makes for healing in the long run. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to open up about deep pain-it is painful to do so in the moment, but it makes us much better overall. One conclusion from this research may be that keeping deep secrets of our painful experiences robs us of our health-maintaining energies and possibly of our potential for optimism. In general, the more open we are about our deeper self, the healthier we are. It follows that there might be meaning in our relationships for those who know us more deeply.