Tuesday 18 September 2007

Putting positive psychology to work

This session is being presented by Kevin Money at Henley.

Psychology has a tendency to focus on the negative - exploring what is wrong with people, depression rather than happiness, criminal behaviour rather than socially engaged behaviour etc.

So too do many individuals and organisations. A good sign of this is when an organisation focuses on sickness absence rather than engagement.

Positive psychology focuses on what goes right, on people's strengths, on happiness. But Kevin referred to Martin Seliigman's findings that happiness is result of a pleasant, engaged and meaningful life rather than the pursuit of life.

He also quoted AC Grayling, The Meaning of Things:

"Knowledge and progress are primary, causing happiness as a side effect; they are the goal, and the attendant happiness, when it comes, is a sign that they are being reached."

Marcus Buckingham's / Gallup's research on strengths relates to this. So does Appreciative Inquiry.

The session also dealt with story telling as a means of providing a satisfying life. The stories we tell show how we interpret events and how we script our lives. They also tend to act as self-fulfilling prophecies. In terms of the last sessions' focus on neuroscience, they act at the cognitive level but are also a fast route to influence the emotions.

And Kevin told a story about Clive Woodward, coach of the England rugby team that won the 2003 world cup. One of the things that Woodward did was to encourage his team to reflect on success rather that failure. The team realised that they tended to very good at the start of a game but would fall apart during first 10 minutes of second half. Woodward got the team to recreate the start of the game at the beginning of the second half by putting on a new kit etc.

What are the stories told in your organisations and what stories do you tell? Using Steve Downing's categories, are these the quest, the downfall, the contest or the scam?

Kevin's summary:

"Everyone experiences emotion at work so the challenge for employers is to get their people to think more positively and learn from what others do well. It is up to those at the top to create a positive culture where employees take time out to reflect and share experiences in terms of what is working well and why."


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