The Benefit of Positive Emotions at Work

Have you ever thought that emotion has no place in the world of business? Well here’s some research that might cause you to stop and think. Do you want to see quickly and easily how positive or negative emotion impacts your current thinking style?

Take a look at these four groups of shapes – for each one do you think pattern A is more like B or C?

According to Barbara Fredrickson’s “broaden and build” theory, in this visual processing task people in positive moods are more likely to choose B (global) every time. Fredrickson and Branigan’s research* shows that positive moods facilitate more creative, flexible, big-picture thinking, in which positive people remain open to new information. As a result, the number of behavioural options open to them increases.

People in negative moods, on the other hand, are more focused on the detail of a situation, have a more rigid thinking style in which their thought-action repertoire is narrowed. These people are more likely to say pattern A is like C (local).

The good news is that while a positive emotional state is only momentary, there is evidence to suggest that the effect is cumulative, thus you can increase your flexibility and resourcefulness over time.

It’s crucial for workplace success to remain as flexible and open to new ideas as possible, so the broaden and build theory has serious implications for business. Specifically you may want to consider how you can foster positive emotions before and during brainstorming sessions, when you want to create as many innovative ideas as possible. In problem-solving situations too, consider what action you can take to sustain a positive frame of mind while you’re generating new solutions.

Next time you’re in one of these business situations, notice the impact your mood has on your thinking style. In coaching we’ve noticed that clients who maintain a positive outlook are far more likely to generate ideas than those who allow a negative mood to dominate. Try it for yourself, and let us know how you get on.

* Fredrickson, B.L., & Branigan, C. (2005) “Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires”

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