We all have that coworker who is all smiles, no matter how chaotic the work week is. They believe things will turn out well and don’t dwell this negative. Overall, they are optimistic. And although sometimes those who see the cold brew half-full are touted as naive or gullible, there is a difference between being a push-over and being a positive person.
As career experts and therapists explain, optimism is not only a state of mind but an approach to life and a strategy for handling obstacles. And its been shown that this positive approach fuels more positive results. Here, experts share the benefits of optimism in the workplace. Use this guide to gain new appreciation for your cheery coworkers, or to coach yourself on how to be more optimistic at work.
Optimists are solution-driven
Instead of placing blame or pointing out the negative, optimists are driven to uncover solutions. As business coach Ivy Slater explains, optimists tend to take a solution-driven approach to problems, rather than a fear-based approach. And while they may initially feel a hint of panic, they are able to let go and get started. “They envision their tasks like a game to be played and won,” Slater says. “The challenge becomes something they want to conquer and enjoy the process of doing so due to their initial positive mindset. This is effective because they take the time to become clear on their action items and do what they can do to move forward. They don’t get stuck in indecision, because they trust their gut and go for it.”
Optimists are natural-born motivators
Of all of the important leadership skills, the ability to motivate employees is paramount, and this is believed to be one of the top benefits of optimism in the workplace. Lubna Somjee, PhD, a psychologist and executive coach, says optimists basically double as unofficial TedTalk speakers and have the ability to boost morale and mood among those they work closely with. They do this through their words, of course, but also through their actions and choices. “Modeling the ability to handle workplace speed bumps as challenges, opportunities to innovate, and think creatively, can be motivating, and given feelings are contagious, this outlook can spread to other employees as well, which can benefit an entire organization,” Dr. Somjee explains. “This can be useful in achieving goals, as compared to employees or leaders who are pessimistic.”
Optimists attract other positive, powerful people
As the saying goes, you are the company you keep. Though optimists can sometimes be competitive, they also appreciate and seek friends or mentors who are accomplished, successful, and happy. As Judy Ho, PhD, a board-certified clinical and forensic neuropsychologist and author explains, optimists understand that oftentimes big ideas and project take a village, and they are keen to collaborate with talented folks. “They aren’t afraid to be challenged, and they revel in being in the presence of other dynamic people, because it helps them to be their best selves and spark creativity,” Dr. Ho adds.
Optimists are resilient
Rather than throwing up the white flag in defeat or feeling drained from demanding deadlines, optimists enjoy the hustle. And, perhaps more interestingly, they come out on the other side feeling empowered and self-assured. This means the longer the work, the more powerful and resilient they become, explains Gail Saltz, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. “This confidence means experiencing less upset and anxiety, and knowing they have overcome obstacles and stress before reinforces the feeling they can do it again,” she explains, adding that this makes them a good colleague to work through tough situations with. “They are likely to calm others and help them remain positive and less fazed by difficult times or issues.”
Optimists view stress as temporary
The precipitate of workplace stress is encountering a problem and then ruminating endlessly about it. Think about it: If you tell yourself how terrible something is over and over again, and then complain to coworkers, suddenly it becomes bigger and bigger. Dr. Somjee says, generally speaking, optimists are able to keep things in perspective and view hurdles as temporary. “This is in contrast to pessimists who when faced with adversity often assume something/a circumstance is permanent,” she explains. “When faced with adversities day to day or even long-term, optimists are better positioned to adapt, and resolve issues instead of becoming stuck.” Given how many challenges can occur during the course of a natural workday, she adds, this can help buffer against occupational stress.
Optimists are not afraid to take risks
Dr. Ho says optimists are not only big idea people, they are big risk people — in a good way. They believe in their ability (and that of the team) to meet and exceed benchmarks, and they will often challenge those who take the easy road. “They often show their unique thought style through honest brainstorming sessions where they think less about what others’ opinions might be and are more interested in how they can move the conversation forward without being hindered by social comparisons,” Dr. Ho explains.
Optimists are overall happy
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of optimism is happiness. It’s an often overlooked professional trait but one that makes a huge difference in career development, according to psychologist Matt Grzesiak, PhD. Too much negativity in the workplace can undermine one’s success, relationships, and health. “Optimists do not feel rejection or anger the way pessimists do, therefore it is easier for them to see the workplace in a positive manner,” Dr. Grzesiak says. And it goes without saying, but happier people are more pleasant to work with. At the end of the day, would you work with someone who constantly complains, or energizes you and makes you feel better?
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