Are High-​Performing Employees More Optimistic?

BY Tim Londergan
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It’s easy to get mired in the dreadful things that are happening today. As human beings, we are wired to think toward the future, yet with a constant barrage of negative events, it’s tough to display a sunny disposition. So, how is it that some people tend to take a negative view on the same events that others merely take in stride and carry on? The Keller Center for Research points to psychological resourcefulness as the answer. Furthermore, they suggest that optimism and resilience are traits of high performing employees.

Cultivating high-​performing employees

Ideally, all managers seek to hire resilient, optimistic people. Certainly, your hiring process is enhanced if it includes behavioral assessments. However, in today’s tight labor market, flawless candidates are hard to find. Therefore, managers are faced with choosing the lesser of evils when it comes to likely behaviors.

The authors of the Keller research study recognize the evolutionary transition of the selling process. Specifically, they refer to how product knowledge and feature/​benefit statements have given way to greater customer-​oriented practices. Importantly, they connect optimism and resilience to more “diverse, exploratory and novel behaviors that lead to the kind of problem solving necessary to meet customer satisfaction." This correlation is expressly why managers should look for optimistic characteristics when hiring high-​performing employees.

The distinctions of optimism and pessimism

People who are pessimistic tend to use denial or escapist/​avoidant behaviors when dealing with stress. Conversely, optimists are more hopeful about the future and pursue things that will improve their well-​being. Consequently, how these two opposing personalities explain the world and their experiences determine their outlook on life. Psychologist Martin Seligman has studied how people explain reasons for an event and as a result, offers three dimensions of explanatory styles and how pessimists and optimists differ in their self-talk:

  • Personalization” – When things go wrong, pessimists may self-​blame while optimists lay blame on external forces or circumstances. Conversely, optimists credit their own efforts for good events, while pessimists link those outcomes to external influences.
  • Permanence” – Optimists tend to view bad times as temporary and bounce back quickly. Pessimists see events as permanent and unchangeable. Therefore, they are more likely to surrender when things go wrong.
  • Pervasiveness” – Optimists separate events and do not let failure in one color the outcome of the next. On the other hand, pessimists believe if they fail at one thing, they will fail at everything.

Strategies to instill optimism

We often think of optimism as a fixed character trait. However, optimistic thinking can be cultivated. For leaders, modeling optimism is the best way to combat negative bias among your team members. However, according to edutopia​.org, managers can help their employees be more optimistic and develop the characteristics of high-​performing employees:

  • Positive reframing” – Challenge your employees to seek positive ways to evaluate events – even failures. You can emphasize lessons learned and how this is not a permanent setback.
  • Averting catastrophizing” – Help team members to break free of unproductive self-​talk. Express empathy and find proactive steps to help solve the problem.
  • Use humor” – Humor can be a wonderful antidote to an otherwise negative situation. Managers should be able to objectively take the sting out of failure with a light touch.

Beyond setting an example, managers can practice optimistic explanatory thinking. For example, at the end of an unsuccessful event, you can admit that it did not go as well as hoped. Then, resolve to find a way to improve the outcome the next time. Help employees to see negative events as isolated from further dealings. Teaching optimism invites others to see unpleasant outcomes as a springboard for learning.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash