What’s the difference between positive thinking and positive psychology? That was my first question to positive psychology expert Margaret Greenberg in our Expert Interview podcast. It was a question she’d heard before.
“I can’t tell you how many times people, when I tell them what I do, say, ‘Oh, so you just think positive thoughts. Is that it?’ And I say, ‘No, not exactly. It’s not turning lemons into lemonade. It’s not about a bunch of smiley faces and just thinking positive thoughts.“
So if not that, then what? Think of a bridge, she suggests.
“Imagine that you’re an architect and that you design bridges. Would you study all of the bridges that have collapsed or would you study all of the bridges that have stood the test of time? Psychologists typically studied only the bridges that have collapsed. We study disease and dysfunction, and rightly so – we need to cure those things. We haven’t spent so much time studying the bridges that have withstood the test of time. Studying more positive topics and what makes people flourish, what makes businesses productive and positive places – we haven’t done as good a job studying those kinds of things,” she says.
In practical terms, we’re talking about qualities such as resilience and optimism, and a focus on strengths. All of these can have a huge positive impact at work, Greenberg says, “even on the bottom line.”
She cites one study that looked at more than 300,000 employees in 51 companies. It found that teams that applied their top strengths every day had 44 percent higher customer loyalty and employee retention than those that did not.
“So it matters,” Greenberg asserts. “We’re not saying ignore problems, no. But if that’s the only thing you focus on, fixing problems or shoring up weaknesses, you’re really missing out on an important part of the results equation.“
Managers intrigued by these ideas would benefit from reading Greenberg’s book, “Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business,” co-written with fellow positive psychologist Senia Maymin. It’s a collection of tips and tools from the world of positive psychology that are easy to implement in all kinds of organization.