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Michelle Gielan is a national CBS News anchor turned positive psychology researcher, and is the best-selling author of Broadcasting Happiness. Michelle is the Founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research and holds a Master of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the Executive Producer of “The Happiness Advantage” Special on PBS and a featured professor in Oprah’s Happiness course. Her research and advice have received attention from The New York Times, Washington Post, FORBES, CNN, FOX, and Harvard Business Review.
It should have been a high point in my life. I had landed a job at CBS News in New York, and each morning I broadcasted the news to millions of people. The challenge was that early morning newscasts like “The Early Show” require those working on the program to wake up long before the rest of the world. I don’t do well when I am not fully rested, and soon enough I turned into a ball of complaints.
My colleagues would ask me, “How are you?” and before I could stop myself, I would blurt out what had become the common refrain, “I’m exhausted.”
Without fail, this negative start to the conversation meant it could only go in one of two directions. Either my colleagues comforted me by offering compassion, or they played misery poker with me. “You think you’re tired, let me tell you how exhausted I am!”
Now as a defected media professional turned positive psychology researcher, I study the impact of our word choice on everything from relationships to business goals. In short, our research has found that broadcasting negativity decreases meaningful connection with others. Meanwhile, focusing on sharing an empowering, optimistic vision at work positively impacts other people’s thinking and fuels individual and collective business outcomes including increasing sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, profits by 50%, and decreasing the negative effects of stress by 23%.
Nowhere is your power to meaningfully influence others more evident than at the start of an interaction. The way we start off conversations, meetings, emails, and phone calls often predicts how they unfold.
Our research shows that how we choose to begin a conversation influences the behavior of others.
When someone asks you how you’re doing, how do you answer? Starting off by sharing something positive and meaningful is what I call a Power Lead. Here are two ways to start a conversation (the old way vs. the Power Lead way):
“I’m overwhelmed. There’s just so much to do.” vs. “Doing great today. I had breakfast with my kid, and he was being really funny.” (That’s mine from this morning!)
“Feeling frustrated with this project.” vs. “Looking forward to putting our heads together during this meeting to figure out a plan here.”
Our research shows that how we choose to begin a conversation influences the behavior of others. In one study, researchers asked participants to take a “language test.”During the fake test, they were either exposed to rude words like obnoxious, or polite words like respect. After the test, they were put into a situation, one by one, in which they could be either polite or rude.
Participants who had been exposed to the rude words were nearly 50% more likely to interrupt, whereas the majority of the “polite” participants waited their turn to speak. What we talk about changes not only other people’s focus, but subsequently how they behave, too.
At CBS, I started to get sick of hearing myself complain, and decided to try out the Power Lead. One night, when my coworker asked how I was doing, I told her that I was really enjoying the cup of coffee I was having at the moment. We ended up having an upbeat conversation. After a few nights of trying out this new tactic, she told me that she was so happy to see me in a good mood because she had been wanting to tell me her good news that she was pregnant for quite some time. Understandably, it just hadn’t felt right to celebrate it given my perceptual down mood.
Social support (the breadth, depth and meaning in our relationships) is the greatest predictor of happiness we have in the research.
People who connect through positive experiences not only inspire happiness in others, they cultivate more of it themselves as they create a strong feedback loop. Additionally, in a study I conducted with Arianna Huffington and researcher Shawn Achor, we found that if you move the focus from merely talking about problems to presenting possible solutions during a conversation, you can increase creative problem solving in the people you’re talking to by 20%!
Authenticity is key here. The Power Lead is not necessarily a call for your inner cheerleader to shine, unless that’s who you are. Think about this when you are writing emails as well as when you are talking to another person. The strongest Power Leads are often about real, positive things happening in the world.
One simple, research-based way to put this into practice (I always recommend this when speaking at companies about our research):
- Begin your day with a Power Lead. When you open up your inbox in the morning, before reading any of your emails, hit compose.
- Send a 2 minute positive email to someone you know, praising or thanking them.
- Try to choose someone new each day for 21 days.
The reason this tool is so effective is that these notes meaningfully activate people in your social support network, and they start your day off on a positive note. Your brain will view the rest of the day differently.
How can you get frustrated with a work challenge at 2 PM when at 9 AM you saw how yet one more person loves and cares about you? Social support (the breadth, depth and meaning in our relationships) is the greatest predictor of happiness we have in the research. Broadcast happiness to fuel your own happiness and success, while also having a positive ripple effect on others.
What’s your Power Lead today?