The Three O?s of Optimism

In Martin Seligman?s National Bestseller, Learned Optimism, he discusses the three P?s of Pessimism: Pervasiveness, Permanence and Personal.? Seligman notes that a pessimist is less persistent in dealing with setbacks or overcoming obstacles because the pessimist believes that when an obstacle presents itself,?it reflects that EVERYTHING is an obstacle, it will ALWAYS be an obstacle, and I (the pessimist)?will NEVER be any different (a hopeless, ?see, I told you so? perspective).???After reading Seligman?s work and making observations about pessimists I have encountered in my work and life, I decided we need The Three O?s of Optimism to remind us all of how we can shift our perspective from Pessimism (hopeless) to Optimism (hopeful).? The three O?s are Opportunity, Occasion, and Ownership.? Opportunity reminds us that setbacks or obstacles are just that ? blips in the road, diversions along the way ? which?are often opportunities for greater learning and insight.? For example, if my relationship with my manager is becoming strained (an obstacle to my performance) that is an opportunity for me to pause, think about what I want from that relationship, and plan what I want to say to my manager.? The strain (?problem?) is actually an indicator that we need to have a dialogue about our relationship.? We need to go deeper (?opportunity?).? At the end of the dialogue, we will undoubtedly have a stronger relationship ? impacting performance for us both.? Occasion reminds us that catastrophic language like EVERYTHING, ALWAYS and NEVER will by themselves make us less persistent!? We?ve given up before we even start.? Really, think about any circumstance?in which this generalized?language is true, or even remotely?useful.? It is?disengageing language; if we believe?that something is permanent, then it shall be?permanent?- because we have made it so.??We can look at all the moments in our lives as ?occasions? or occurrences: some are positive and some are not.? Ownership is a reminder that sometimes a setback or obstacle is a direct result of my personal actions, and sometimes it is not.? Sometimes, the setback is due to the actions of others.? I?am, of course, responsible for my actions along the way ? and those actions will be easier choices for me when I realize that the setback or obstacle is not permanent, pervasive, or personal!

Changing the three P?s to the three O?s will help?you to move into that new groove ? to recover more quickly from setbacks and to make the most of the learning opportunity in front of you.

How do you stay optimistic?

Feedback is Information

Years ago, I met two very wise individuals. They taught me a lesson that literally ?changed my life?. That lesson was that feedback is information; and that when people give you feedback they are really telling you about themselves. Let me explain.

As a workshop facilitator with audiences filled with supervisors, managers, and organizational leaders on a regular basis, the topic of feedback comes up regularly. When my audiences are not filled with leaders, they are filled with people who work for leaders?and the topic of feedback comes up regularly in these sessions too! Everyone seems to want it, and seems to see great benefits in giving and receiving it, and yet not many of us are engaging in it! I think a big part of the reason for this is a lack of understanding and appreciation that feedback is just information ? it is not ?truth?.

When someone gives you feedback, they are really telling you about their view of the world ? their expectations, their experience, their likes and dislikes. It is just information for you and does not mean that it IS reality ? it?s just their reality (in that moment, in that situation).

So, if John says ?you are great!?, that is nice for you to hear, but it does not mean that you ARE great?it just means that John thought that something you did or said or did not do or say, was ?great? as he defines it. Just like if Sam said ?you are rude?, it just means that Sam thought something you did or said or did not do or say, was ?rude? as she defines it. It does not mean that you ARE rude.

When you think of feedback as just information, you can be curious about the information you get and use all feedback as a learning opportunity ? an opportunity to learn how others around you view the world, including how they interpret your behaviour. So, you can respond with something like ?Thank you, John. Now help me understand what I did or said that was ?great? to you!? or ?Thank you, Sam. I am curious about what I did or said or didn?t do or say that was ?rude? to you.?

I am reminded of a lovely quotation by Gene Early, ?Feedback is not absolute truth, but it is truth to the person delivering it.?

Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Kids

I am reminded constantly of leadership principles from my interactions with my children.? Here are a few examples.

One day, my daughter arrived home from school and was telling me about her day.? Then she said, ?Mom, is it okay if I tell you something ? and you don?t give me and advice??? I was stopped in my tracks.? It reminded me of how important ?listening? is; just listening!? I teach this in my seminars, and the reminder from my daughter made the lesson that much more powerful.? As leaders (and parents) we jump in with advice, information or problem solving, when often what people want from us is just our ear, just to be there for them as a sounding board and a safe place to vent.

Another day, we were rushing around in the morning and my son was lagging behind.? ?We have to go ? come on? I said, as I rushed up the stairs to the bathroom for teeth brushing and hair combing.? I noticed there was no one behind me on the the stairs.? I turned, ?What?s up? Why aren?t you up here???I asked.? As my son looked up at me at the top of the stairs, he simply said ?Hey mom, your butt really jiggles when you run up the stairs!?? I was stunned, then I laughed.? That day, he reminded me to be careful not to assume the intentions of other.? He certainly had no bad intention in sharing this observation with me, he did not intend to upset me or insult me.? He was simply stating what he noticed.? At work we make all sorts of assumptions about the intentions of others; how often are we wrong or off track in those assumptions?? Often, I think!

The last story relates to my daughter.? As we were discussing her grades and other school related matters, she said ?Mom, how come when I bring a mark home you behave like it is your mark??? Again, I was silenced.? She reminded me here that I was owning what is rightfully hers; and when I thought my face was communicating one thing (concern for her doing well at school) it was really communicating something else (?I? have failed if you don?t do well in school).? Kids, and our staff members, want to learn their own lessons and own their own mistakes as well as their own successes.? When we start to own their experience, the experience is far less meaningful for them.

As is often the case, we can learn a lot from those we think we are teaching (and we need to follow those who we are leading)?So, remember to just listen, avoid assuming intentions, and let others own their own successes and failures.