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  • Josh Vaisman

They Need an Attitude Adjustment

Updated: Sep 6, 2018


How many times have you walked away from a work interaction and mumbled under your breath, “Man, that person sure needs an attitude adjustment!” Yeah, me too. We’ve all encountered a client or co-worker (or both!) who get filed away under the title, “Toxic.”


How many times have you actually tried to “adjust” their attitude? OK, to be clear, I’m not talking about throwing a tantrum or an inanimate object in their general direction – I mean genuinely tried to get them to change. If you’re anything like me you’ve probably made very few attempts to detoxify these people. Why? Because everyone KNOWS you can’t change other people.


I’m here today to convince you the last sentence is actually a myth. Guess what? Science clearly shows we CAN change people!


Science clearly shows we CAN change people!

Let’s start with this – why do we struggle so much with “toxic” people in the workplace? If our attitudes are fixed, a naturally positive person shouldn’t care if they work with a toxic team member, right? We do care, because toxic people can bring us down. Why? Because our emotions are contagious.


In a fascinating study I’m glad I wasn’t a part of researches collected the sweat of ten men while they watched horror films. They froze the sweat and then had women smell it (which, when you think about it, is kind of its own horror script). The women’s micro-expressions were carefully watched. Lo and behold, the women “caught” the fear emotions the men had experienced watching the films!


This may not surprise you – after all, we’ve all experienced “catching” the bad mood of a negative-focused co-worker. Here’s where the science gets really fascinating – it works the other way around too!


Michelle Geilan has made it her career focus to uncover the science behind broadcasting positivity. In one study, in partnership with Arianna Huffington, they presented two groups of people with an article about some sort of problem in the world. One group was encouraged to talk about the problem while the second group was encouraged to talk about the problem AND THEN focus on five potential solutions for it. All participants were then subject to unrelated problem-solving tasks. The group that had spent time discussing the problem AND focusing on the five possible solutions experienced a 20% increase in creative problem solving on the following, unrelated tasks!


The group that had spent time discussing the problem AND focusing on the five possible solutions experienced a 20% increase in creative problem solving

Geilan’s advice to us all? Choose to broadcast more positively. Empathize with others but don’t ruminate. Instead of reacting to the inevitable stresses in life, take a moment to consider a response. Sit with the negative for a moment and then craft a small “Now Step” as a first action item to moving forward.

And don’t forget, you have a super power. That’s right, you do. It’s your smile! Genuine smiles (even when you don’t feel like smiling) releases positive neurotransmitters such as dopamine and oxytocin. Oxytocin is a contagious neurotransmitter – that’s why when you really smile at someone they smile back at you! You’re actually giving them a hit of uplifting brain chemicals. Oh, also, smiling makes you look younger. Bonus!


How will you be contagious at work today?


- written by Josh Vaisman

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