Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Flourishing in the Paradox of the Positive

By Robert Quinn

I was recently invited to run a retreat for a business school in another part of the country. I was to make a presentation and organize a series of exercises that would help the people design their future. A year ago one of my colleagues played the same role with this group. During his day he made an extensive presentation of empirical findings from POS. He also presented tools they could use to apply the principles he taught.

As I visited with people it was clear that they were very impressed with the previous presentation. One professor told me he was intellectually “awed” by it.
Yet it was also clear that few of the POS tools or suggestions had actually been applied. It had been a tough economic year and there were also some conflicts going on in the organization. While some good things had happened, few seemed to be connected with the application of POS.

As I considered the tension in the organization and the fact that there was relatively little application from the previous year, I became increasingly apprehensive about what I was supposed to do. I was to go on in 30 minutes. I felt fear and a knot began to form in my stomach.

Positive Emotions

As I sat there I thought of the research by Barbara Fredrickson. Her work demonstrates the importance of positive emotions. Positive emotions:

• Lead to thoughts that are unusual, flexible, integrative and efficient.

•Broaden visual attention, increase bonding, help regulate negative arousal, improve coping with adversity, increase the likelihood of finding positive meaning in negative events and facilitate the development of plans and goals.

•Increase the likelihood that we are able to play, to explore, envision the future, savor experience and integrate new views into the self.

She states that, “Positive emotions transform individuals into more resilient, socially integrated, and capable versions of themselves.” [1]


For people in organizations this claim is particularly important. She indicates that positive emotions are contagious and spread through groups and organizations. Positive emotions give rise to sequences of events that create new meaning. Such changes can reduce conflict and give rise to more integrity, trust, vision and creative mutual support. The culture can become more compassionate and creative and can take the group or organization to a more optimal level of functioning.

Click here to read the entire article.

I thought this part was particularly of use in dealing with workplace bullies:

“Positive emotions transform individuals into more resilient, socially integrated, and capable versions of themselves.” As we apply principles that cause of us to feel more positive, authentic and courageous, we then engage in more positive, authentic and courageous acts. We thus become emotionally contagious in that we inspire more positive, authentic and courageous feelings and action in others. They then do things that inspire us and our relationships become a virtuous cycle. As we live in such a virtuous cycle, we flourish in the paradox of the positive.

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