By Neil Phillips.

I don’t think we realize how powerful we are in creating our environment.  As a coach, I often have to support my client’s in raising their awareness about the role that they play in their surroundings.  As their awareness grows, their productivity and satisfaction leap to new heights.

When you realize how powerful you are in shaping how you feel and what you do, your leadership grows by leaps and bounds.  I recently came across some interesting research on this.  Ironically, one article was about how we can create an unproductive environment and the other was about how we have the power to create a positive environment.

Nathaneal Fast and Larissa Tiedens wrote an article for the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2010 on “Blame Contagion.” We want to maintain a positive self-image so, when confronted by a threat to our image, we lay the blame off on other people or circumstances.  Let’s face it: the vast majority of us are above average, take responsibility for our successes, and put the cause for failures on our situation.  Fast and Tierdens look deeper than that:

  • When we blame others, we learn less and perform worse.
  • When we see others laying blame, we are more likely to do so as well.
  • We develop a goal of protecting our self-image.  In one sense, when we lay blame, we increase the likelihood that we will do it again in the future.

Fast and Tierdens do find hope through one of their experiments.  When we engage in self-affirmations, our need to protect our self-image decreases.  Self-affirmations are a shield against hits to our self- concept. (Look in the mirror and say out loud statements like, “I am powerful and will support others discovering their power.”)

The flip side of blame contagion is what Shawn Anchor describes as The Happiness Effect.  It really is the flip side.  He looks at research on positive psychology that covers over 200 experiments and 275,000 people.  As he says, “Data abounds showing that happy workers have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, and receive higher performance ratings and higher pay. They also enjoy more job security and are less likely to take sick days, to quit, or to become burned out.”

One of the easiest ways to produce a happy work environment is through positive praise.  For all practical purposes, that’s the same activity as the cure for blame contagion.  It takes about three positive comments, experiences, or expressions to fend off the languishing effects of one negative. Dip below this tipping point, and workplace performance quickly suffers. Rise above it—ideally, the research shows, to a ratio of 6 to 1—and teams produce their very best work.”

How will this affect what you do as a leader?

Want to Hear How Other Leaders Give Praise?

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