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How to fulfill your potential

Can Positivity Boost Performance?

A positive emotional state can make you more productive.

Can a positive frame of mind and emotional state improve an individual's performance on the job and in relationships?

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a distinguished psychology professor and author of Positivity, believes so. She argues that our emotions are connected to our outlooks via a cause-and-effect relationship. As positivity (as defined as love, joy, gratitude, serenity, hope and optimism) flows through our hearts, it simultaneously broadens our minds, allowing us to see the forest and the trees.

Fredrickson cites research at Brandeis University where, using sophisticated eye-tracking technology, researchers have shown that positive emotions broaden people's visual attention.

One practical consequence of positivity's mind-broadening power is enhanced creativity. The evidence shows that siimply imagining a joyful memory or receiving a small kindness can make a difference in the ease with which people locate creative and optimal solutions to the problems they face on a daily basis.

Scientists at Cornell University examined the ways that physicians made medical diagnoses by having them think aloud while they solved the case of a patient with liver disease. Researchers found that when they gave physicians a small gift—even as simple as candy—those physicians were better at integrating case information and less likely to come to a premature diagnosis.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkely Haas School of Business examined how positivity affects managers. They found that managers with greater positivity were more acccurate and careful on making decisions and were more effective interpersonally and spread positivity within their work teams, which in turn produced better collaboration.

Finally, scientists at Kellog School of Management at Northwestern University learned that when people negotiate complex bargains, positivity made a significant difference, resulting in more successful negotiations.

All of the preceding evidence supports the proposition that positivity has a beneficial effect on productivity and performance, a conclusion that employers and leaders should note.

Ray Williams is the author of Breaking Bad Habits and The Leadership Edge.

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