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The Water Cooler

A blog of fresh ideas and findings from organizational leaders and researchers on how they’re making work better, shared regularly.

Find better solutions by not complaining about problems

Find better solutions by not complaining about problems
In order to solve big problems, we need to focus on solutions. Sounds obvious, but when looking at how the media and even our workplaces can over emphasize the problems with little mention of solutions, research has shown that there is indeed a better way.

Michelle Gielan, founder and researcher at the Institute of Applied Positive Research, spoke at the re:Work 2016 event about the importance of a solutions-oriented mindset for employees, students, and leaders.

A former CBS news anchor, Gielan grew frustrated with the constant stream of negative, problem-focused coverage the media provides to viewers. This pessimistic representation has a real impact. Research shows that just three minutes of negative news in the morning can lead to a 27% higher likelihood you'll report your day as "unhappy" 6-8 hours later, Gielan said.

Gielan left the newsroom for the laboratory, and in partnership with Arianna Huffington and fellow researcher Shawn Achor, she sought to understand how to flip this mindset. They tested the impact of two different types of news coverage on people’s problem-solving abilities. One group saw only news about the pervasive and pernicious problem of hunger in America. The other group saw news stories about hunger in America but their media set included five things individuals can do right now to fight hunger in their communities. “When you present someone with problems that they can solve and solutions that they can actually take themselves right now, their creative problem-solving abilities on unrelated subsequent task increase by on average as much as 20%,” Gielan said.

Gielan has taken these insights and has been testing them in the workplace. She wants to understand the power of positivity in the work. “Research shows that optimistic, empowered sales professionals outsell their pessimistic counterparts 37%,” she said. “A follow-up study found that it was by as much as 56%. This was done at MetLife at the University of Pennsylvania.”

“And so journalists, leaders, parents, and all the other people who choose on a regular basis to focus on the positive, you are the true leaders as we move forward into the future,” Gielan concluded. “And so my hope is that we can focus on all the successes and solutions in a way that reminds our brain that our behavior matters and that we can make a difference in the face of challenges to create the results that we're looking for.”