< Back to articles

'Breaking Bad Toronto': The Power and Contagion of Positive Psychology

Vol 5, Issue 9

Some of you will remember our news last spring of moving home and business to Liberty Village Toronto. In short, we love it: the vibrancy, the vibe, the friendliness. However, it isn't without incident. This last one both made the news AND inspired this ideasletter. To you all, happy holidays and happy new year!

Samantha and Dr. Marc Hurwitz

Recently Marc and I were having a meeting in our home office and BANG!

Seconds later the fire alarm sounded. Marc walked all the way down the stairs to the lobby. He reported back that I should stay put with the cat. Fire marshals were quelling panic and stating that while an explosion had indeed occurred on the 6th floor, it was contained and everyone on other floors could remain in their units.

It wasn't until later the next day that we all found out on the news that we'd unwittingly and unwillingly become 'background talent' for Breaking Bad Toronto: a 6th floor unit was being used as a meth lab. It had exploded with such force that two sets of elevator doors were blown out, and smoke and debris spewed into the hallway.

Early the next morning, folks were much more talkative than usual on the one remaining elevator (of course it was filled to capacity!). People were very concerned for each other. Was anyone hurt? Is everyone ok?

Later in the day, the sentiment turned to anger. The elevator discussion had become: How could this happen in our building? How could this person have put so many at risk? This is a family-friendly building!

The following morning, the sentiment had changed once again: concern for property values, quality of life, and the reputation of our building. Then one, articulate young man piped up with this positive outlook: "I live really close to the unit that exploded. The fire marshals checked my place thoroughly and declared it absolutely fine. They told me that the building is very well built. A fire could burn up to two hours in a unit here without spreading. I feel very grateful and am glad to live here."

And the sentiment shifted to relief, gratitude, and a renewed sense of community.That is the power and contagion of positive psychology.

Positive psychology is about the impact of happiness, contentment and wellbeing on people. Being positive may sound fuzzy and unimportant, but positive teamwork, positive work relationships and positive leadership have been shown to improve just about every organizational outcome imaginable. It increases innovation, enhances work coordination, improves performance at every level, reduces turnover, and supports individual reliance. It can also have a huge impact on health. Powerful stuff!

How powerful is positivity? One study showed that people will walk twice as far in an office to avoid a negative person but three times as far to come into contact with a positive person. Positivity wins!

And, it is contagious - the more positive you are, the more positive your co-workers will be regardless of whether the person is a peer, one of your staff, or even your boss. This is called upstream reciprocity.

Here are three ways you can immediately direct your positivity to good effect:

1. Positivity improves creativity

A positive mood has been shown to improve divergent thinking - both the quality and quantity of creative ideas. The famous director and "Master of Suspense", Alfred Hitchcock, was known to stop a team huddle and tell a joke when they didn't seem to be getting anywhere. Only then would they continue working on finding a solution.

2. Positivity improves leadership

A meta-analytic review by Bruce Avolio and his colleagues (2009) found that one leadership training technique outperformed all others for improving team engagement and productivity: the Pygmalion Effect. It is when a leader believes and behaves like she has her A-team. In experiments, leaders were given evidence that their staff were better than the leaders initially thought. Outcomes based on this simple intervention were more effective than training on any other leadership technique including transformational leadership, authentic leadership, servant-leadership, or situational leadership.

3. Positivity improves influence

Studies show that people gravitate to making choices based on positivity. When presented with a couple of options, even if the options are statistically the exact same, people will overwhelming choose the option that is described using more positive-oriented language; for example, 200 out of 600 jobs will be saved rather than 400 of 600 jobs will be eliminated.

Positivity positively works!!!