Focus on optimism

Donna M. Gray, CRM, is the owner of Total Awards & Promotions/, Madison.

Optimism is a belief in, and expectation of, positive outcomes, even in the face of difficulty, challenge, or crisis. Optimism is an attitude! When things go wrong, which happens at times in every kind of business, thinking optimistically and looking for the good path can be the difference between “making it” and “losing it.” Optimism comes into play when we assume, and expect, success, satisfaction, and achievement in our work.

Last winter, I was out of town for a speaking engagement. The time for my presentation was fast approaching when a phone call from a team member notified me that water was pouring in through the skylight in our store. My “show” was about to begin, and I had to think optimistically for the team back at the office … that they would be creative in staying ahead of the leaks and positive in their approach to getting the right help to solve the problem. Benjamin Franklin said, “While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us.” I put those words into my mind.

We had a great session that morning with wonderful audience participation and interaction. I did share what was going on back home so the group would understand any emergency interruption, and I also let them know, with an optimistic attitude, that I knew my team could handle anything that came down the pike, and that I trusted they would solve the emergency and be “in business” without missing a beat. I was correct! And I was correct in focusing on success, instead of worrying that the roof would cave in. A quick-acting maintenance person with a good shovel took care of the situation and the drama was over.

Everyone in business (large or small) has days where the “roof could cave in” – maybe not literally, but the challenge of the day may seem like it will. I’ve talked to friends in different industries and heard the same thing. Some talked about having a customer’s special order “lost in transit” and locating it after the customer’s needs date. We have a few of those stories ourselves. And when Murphy’s Law drops by for a visit, it’s time to focus on a creative and successful outcome for both the client and the company, even if it means giving the customer a more costly substitute (at no additional cost) to fill the immediate need. Like the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, all businesses should be prepared. When your business has a back-up plan in place, you can optimistically know that things will go the way they’re supposed to.

I’ve been doing some research into the power of optimism in the workplace and I’ve discovered that optimists are more motivated to reach their individual and their company goals, even when there are obstacles. They’re also more willing to take risks to get to the end result.

Optimists close more sales, and they have a higher earnings ratio, especially if they have an accurate barometer on reality. When rejected, optimistic salespeople will make another phone call. They’re more willing to problem-solve on critical issues, and they are easier and more enjoyable to work with.

Entrepreneurs I asked said that:

  • Optimism makes one smarter. Positive emotions can fuel creativity and enhance reasoning skills, leading to more successful results.
  • A positive mood changes the way the brain processes information.
  • When one is in a relaxed, cheerful mood, the brain opens up.
  • Optimists generally are self-aware, flexible, self confident, resilient, and adaptable.
  • Optimists employ a system for thinking, feeling, and behaving that creates conditions for success.

Discussing this at meetings with other business owners, we all agreed that optimistic team members always seem to outperform “high-maintenance” workers. Those who are happy in their work make other team members happy to be working with them. The ones who “see the glass as half empty” have a harder time getting their work done without some kind of drama in the mix.

All the experts that I spoke to agreed that optimism can be learned. While “natural” optimists will cultivate more optimism, those who are anti-optimistic (pessimists) can become 50% more optimistic by learning to choose better thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that will put them on an upward spiral. In her blog “Optimism Brings Positive Results to the Workplace,” author Dana Lightman said that asking the following five questions can help non-optimists to adapt to change and be able to respond to the more positive attitude of today’s competitive marketplace:

  • What can I do to achieve the best possible outcome?
  • What are innovative responses to the solution?
  • What do I need to know to reach a productive conclusion?
  • What can I learn from this situation that will help me in the future?
  • What is an interpretation of this event that will motivate me to continue to strive for excellence and success?

Lightman also advises that when things don’t go exactly the way we want them to, we should respond to the situation by focusing energy on areas of the situation that can be controlled. Figure ways to problem-solve creatively, and appraise events objectively so we can find beneficial solutions. Approach all the challenges with an attitude of “making lemonade.”

Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, says, “When optimistic people encounter obstacles, they try harder. They go the extra mile.” He goes on to say that “optimism in difficult situations not only wins close ball games – it also helps people to grow in their careers.” He offers these tips:

  • Focus on what you can do, and what you can control.
  • Understand, and tap into your inherent strengths.
  • Mentally rehearse how you will handle problems.
  • Accentuate the positive.
  • Focus on possibilities instead of limitations.

Business friends who have shared their opinions about optimism all agreed that even in these recent tough economic times, companies that have cultivated a positive workplace and operated with an optimistic attitude are the ones with happy outcomes.

One of the world’s greatest salespeople, Zig Ziglar, said, “An optimist is someone who goes after Moby Dick in a rowboat and takes the tartar sauce with him.” Harvey Mackay said, “Optimists are right. So are pessimists. It’s up to you to choose which you will be.”

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