“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope,” wrote Helen Keller in “Optimism: An Essay.”
Was Helen Keller right? Research in the field of positive psychology suggests that she was. When psychologist Martin Seligman studied optimism in the workplace, he found that the most optimistic salespeople sell 88% more than the most pessimistic and are much less likely to quit.
Other studies have shown links between optimism and performance in a variety of realms, from sports to politics. And the key here is persistence: in life and in business, we inevitably face setbacks and obstacles. The optimists are the ones who keep moving past them, who imagine a better future and believe they’re the ones who can create it. The pessimists tend to give up or pare down their goals.
But optimism isn’t the most popular philosophy in the workplace, and everyone probably has that over-bubbly coworker who always, annoyingly thinks everything will turn out fine. The research is also revealing that we need optimism in moderation – and in a group setting, it’s probably best to have optimists and pessimists.
The optimists will be at home in the R&D lab or in visionary roles, dreaming up new ideas and seeing opportunities every way they turn. The pessimists are the ones who are constantly assessing risk, well suited for roles in finance and legal.
“The company also needs its pessimists, the people who have an accurate knowledge of present realities. They must make sure grim reality continually intrudes upon the optimists. . . . Their role is to caution, their banner is the yellow flag,” writes Seligman.
So when you’re hiring, make sure you recruit a mix of optimists and pessimists. If you’ve already built a team that’s a bit too doom-and-gloom, there’s good news – optimism can be learned.
I’m running a free online course called The Year of Happy, and February is our month on optimism. In addition to learning what it is and how it’s beneficial, we’ll dive into the different daily habits you can cultivate to become more optimistic. You get one email a week, full of readings and videos that should take just 1-2 hours. If you or your team would like to sign up, you can join us here.
Author Bio: Kira M. Newman is a digital journalist who has written for outlets including the Huffington Post and Tech.co. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and the CaféHappy meetup.
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