How Positive Psychology Differs from Positive Thinking… According to Sarah Lewis

May 27th, 2011 by Sarah Green Leave a reply »

According to Sarah Lewis a consultant within Zircon, the main difference is that Positive psychology is subject to the rigours of scientific experimentation and endorsement, it is both reliable and repeatable. Whereas positive thinking deals more with the realm of anecdote and exhortation. It also takes the position, if it didn’t work it is because you were not positive enough (Ehrenreich,2009)

In literature, there are references to the power of positivity, or ‘feeling good’. Positivity is not a brand of positive thinking, … rather it is the balance of positive emotions against negative ones in people’s lives.

One of the most powerful approaches to organisational change, Appreciative Inquiry (Cooper rider et al., 2001), which was developed independently of the school of positive psychology, incorporated an early recognition of the power of positivity in achieving organizational change: one of the key principles of Appreciative Inquiry is the principle of positivity.

What is a Positive Workplace?

When Martin Seligman first coined the term ‘positive psychology’ in 1999, he suggested that this new domain would have three key areas of study: positive emotions, positive traits and positive institutions, the third being those where people flourish.

What is an abundance culture?

During difficult times, organisations benefit from an “abundance culture”. According to Cameron, (2009) three things make up an abundance culture: positive deviance, virtuous practice and an affirmative bias.

1) Positive deviance

Positive deviance is focused on creating an abundance of good and positive things. Organisations with a positive deviance orientation, while not ignoring problems, focus on growing towards excellence and exceptional performance; they aim to exceed a normal standard.

2) Virtuous actions

Virtuous actions have a positive impact on others and are undertaken regardless of reciprocity or any reward beyond that which is inherent in the act. Acting virtuously might be helping a stranger in difficulty, forgiving someone who has done you wrong or offering wise counsel even though you won’t benefit from the outcome. You can create abundance culture by offering virtuous interactions, being helpful, generous, sharing information and forgiving people. The individual acts can be encouraged and supported by virtuous organizational practices such as strengths-based performance appraisals and appreciative ways of working.

Cameron and colleagues found that the perceived level of virtuousness (trust, optimism, compassion, integrity and forgiveness) in an organisation is positively correlated with the perceived performance (innovation, quality, turnover and customer retention) of the organisation. In addition, this perceived performance is positively correlated with more objective measures of organizational performance, such as the profit margin. This finding effectively means that organizational virtuousness and performance are positively related (Cameron et al, 2004).

One form that virtuous organisational practice might take is to emphasise growing strengths rather than correcting weaknesses.

3) Affirmative bias

To have an affirmative bias means focusing on the best rather than the worst. Organisations that display an affirmative bias demonstrate an emphasis on strengths, capabilities and possibilities rather than threats, problems and weaknesses. Such an affirmative bias doesn’t discount or exclude negative events, rather affirmative organisations have a way of incorporating negative events without being pushed by the threat they pose into a typical simplistic and rigid response.

Adapted from source by Amanda Potter:
Sarah Lewis, Positive Psychology at Work, 2011. Wiley Blackwell.

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