Friday, December 26, 2008

Throwing (positive) snowballs

In October, the World Health Organization published a startling report entitled “Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope.” Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the WHO, noted that the “global toll of mental illness and neurological disorders is staggering.”

Psychologist Corey Keyes of Emory University notes that the absence of mental health may be just as harmful to a person as depression. He places emphasis on social well-being as critical in a healthy adjustment to life. According to Keyes, a socially healthy person:

1. Sees society as meaningful and understandable
2. Sees society as possessing growth potential
3. Feels a sense of community belonging and acceptance
4. Accepts most parts of society
5. Sees oneself as contributing to society

Workplace bullies are not socially healthy. They do not believe their workplace (or the people around them) are meaningful or have growth potential, and they certainly do not feel a sense of community belonging.

But neither do targets of bullying. Bullies can rip any faith in one's workplace community to shreds. As victims are scolded and yelled at, and responsibilities are taken, they lose faith in their leaders and the opportunity to grow, and they certainly lose any chance at belonging and acceptance. It's easy to let a bully rip all hope of positive thoughts from your soul.

But negative experiences lead to more negative experiences. This is called the Snowball Effect. When you stub your toe it becomes easy to think your day is going to be bad. As your day continues it gets worse and worse, but that's because of your own negative outlook. As the ol' adage claims: "When it rains it pours." But think about this - we think things are that way because we think they are that way. In other words, we have a choice as to how we view what's happening around us.

Luckily, positive experiences can do the same thing negative experiences can - but creating a “positive snowball” effect instead. When you get out of bed and think your day is going to be good, it usually is.

This positive thinking comes from vigor and thriving within your organization. The former refers to feelings of emotional energy and cognitive liveliness, and the latter to experiencing a sense of vitality and learning at work. When we experience these positive emotions, we are more likely to be healthy. Positive emotions provide us the capacity to develop effective responses to challenges, navigate through change, and promote our own development.

Thriving and vigor require constantly being in touch with your emotions, and an active intentional engagement in personal and professional growth. That means not allowing the bully to take your positivity away from you. Keep in touch with your own emotions, and hang on to your positive feelings. The bully can't take your vigor. It's yours to give away.

Nelson, D.L., & Cooper, C.L. (Eds.) Positive Organizational Behavior (2007). London: Sage

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