Positive Intelligence impacts Performance

Research shows that when people work with a positive mind-set, performance on nearly every level – productivity, creativity, engagement – improves. People who cultivate a positive mind-set perform better in the face of challenge.

In a meta-analysis of 225 academic studies, researchers Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King, and Ed Diener found strong evidence of directional causality between life satisfaction and successful business outcomes. They found that happy employees have, on average, 31% higher productivity; their sales are 37% higher; their creativity is three times higher. In a study of service departments, employees who score high in life satisfaction are significantly more likely to receive high ratings from customers.

Happiness is perhaps the most misunderstood driver of performance says Shawn Achor author of The Happiness Advantage. For one, most people believe that success precedes happiness. “Once I hit my sales target, I’ll feel great,” they think. But because success is a moving target—as soon as you hit your target, you raise it again – the happiness that results from success is fleeting. Another common misconception is that our genetics, our environment, or a combination of the two determines how happy we are. To be sure, both factors have an impact. But one’s general sense of well-being is surprisingly malleable. The habits you cultivate, the way you interact with coworkers, how you think about stress—all these can be managed to increase your happiness and your chances of success.

According to Achor, stress is another central factor contributing to people’s happiness at work. Many companies offer training on how to mitigate stress, focusing on its negative health effects. The problem is, people then get stressed-out about being stressed-out.

Not to be confused with stress, pressure in a work environment has an upside. Pressure is not an obstacle to growth; it can be the fuel for it. However, the impact of stress, a function of the degree of stress, the number of stressors and one’s stress threshold, can be debilitating.

Your attitude toward stress can dramatically change how it affects you. In a study Alia Crum, Peter Salovey, and Shaun Anchor conducted at UBS in the midst of the banking crisis and massive restructuring, they asked managers to watch one of two videos, the first depicting stress as debilitating to performance and the second detailing the ways in which stress (possibly interpreted as significant pressure) enhances the human brain and body. When they evaluated the employees six weeks later, they found that the individuals who had viewed the “enhancing” video scored higher on the Stress Mindset Scale—that is, they saw stress as enhancing, rather than diminishing, their performance. And those participants experienced a significant drop in health problems and a significant increase in happiness at work.

Stress is an inevitable part of work. Managing your relationship with stress is key to managing stress.  By listing the stressors you’re under in two groups – those you have control over and those you don’t – choosing stressors that you can control and coming up with a small, concrete action plans to reduce these, nudges your brain back to a positive,  and productive, mind-set.

And how do you establish and maintain a Positive Demeanor? This is done by developing new habits. Training your brain to be positive is not so different from training your muscles at the gym. Recent research on neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to change even in adulthood—reveals that as you develop new habits, you rewire the brain. Engaging in one brief positive exercise every day for as little as three weeks can have a lasting impact, Shawn Anchor’s research suggests. Activities that correlate with positive change, include:

1. Jotting down three things you are grateful for.

2. Write a positive message to someone in your social support network.

3. “Meditate” at your desk for two minutes.

4. Exercise for 10 minutes.

5. Take two minutes to describe in a journal the most meaningful experience of the past 24 hours.

It’s clear that increasing your happiness improves your chances of success. Developing new habits, nurturing your coworkers, and thinking positively about stress are good ways to start.

via Positive Intelligence – Harvard Business Review by Shawn Achor, the CEO of Good Think and the author of The Happiness Advantage (Crown Business, 2010).

9 thoughts on “Positive Intelligence impacts Performance

    1. I do agree that a consistent, positive and incorruptible attitude is the foundation – a challenge to maintain under trying circumstances, though.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Sharma. I am consciously aware of the impact of being positive on my Self and the knock-on effect it has on my peers. But sometimes the work pressure does translate into undue stress. It is during these times that a smile seems a tad inauthentic!



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