KATE ATKIN

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What has a swan rescue got to do with finding your strengths?

 

Research in the field of Positive Psychology indicates that using your strengths at work increases your engagement at work. But how do you know what your strengths are?

 

Strength Profiles

One way of identifying your strengths is to take one of a  number of online strengths profiles that will produce a list of your strengths.  One free profile is the VIA Character Strengths that lists 24 value-based strengths and has been well validated.  Another well-researched profile, and one of the most detailed, is the aptly named Strengths Profile that provides a report of your strengths categorised into four areas:  realised strengths (good at, do often & enjoy), unrealised strengths (good at, enjoy, but don’t do often), learned behaviours (good at, do often but don’t enjoy) and weaknesses (not good at) – which at £30+VAT is good value (if you are interested in a strength-based workshop, or a team profile do get in touch).

I particularly like the nuance in the Strength Profile of things you are good at, do often but don’t enjoy – these can be things you have enjoyed in the past but fallen out of love with as you have done them too often; or if you’re like me, things you need to do, such as the accounts and paperwork where the attention for detail is necessary, but they don’t fire you up.

 

Strength Spotting and Swans

If you don’t want to take a “test” then you can simply ask someone, or a few people, who know you well, what they see as your strengths.  Or keep an eye out yourself on what you do well, and enjoy doing.

Sometimes strengths come to the fore in adversity or they may be something that you were good at as a child, but had forgotten about. Or something you never realised you were good at until a certain event occurs.

 

Swan rescue

Taking a firm hold! (click to play video)

Last Tuesday was such an occasion.  I had just finished a meeting in Cambridge and exited onto Mill Lane,  one of the streets that leads down to the river.  As I walked towards where I had left my bicycle, I noticed a number of passers-by had stopped and were photographing a swan which was sitting forlornly in the middle of the road.  Some of the Scudamores punting staff were there too, wondering what on earth to do with the swan – was it hurt? lost? confused?  As traffic started to build up, it was obvious something had to be done.  Shoo-ing the swan had had no effect except to make the swan even more confused.

By now a van was  blocking the swan’s path back to the river.  So I took off my coat and gave it to one of the Scudamores’ staff with instructions to throw it over the swan’s back while I took hold of the swan.  As he was somewhat astonished at my instructions I explained that it was to stop the swan flapping its wings, and that I would gather up the swan and take it back to the river.  So I swiftly picked up the swan, and ignoring her hiss of protest, carried her back to the river where, with a quick shake of her tail feathers, she happily swam away.

 

Teenage Kate with geese she reared (not a swan!)

Teenage Kate with geese

This short video was taken by another member of Scudamores’ staff.

 

By the way, did I mention that I used to rear geese as a teenager?

 

PS: don’t try this at home!  Not all swans are as docile!

 

What does psychology have to say about leadership?

I recently spoke on Positive Leadership to a group of professionals in Cambridge and asked them whether the would like to be a more positive leader.  90% said yes!  I wonder about the few who didn’t… perhaps their reluctance to answer yes was because they didn’t see themselves as leaders, or perhaps they knew something else.

But when I asked a follow up question, “would you like a leader who is positive?”  the answer was surprising!

Check out this video following my recent workshop to find out more…

 

For further details about workshops or keynote talks on Positive Leadership, the Imposter Syndrome and other topics covered by Kate Atkin, please do get in touch.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was recently quoted on Inc. as saying that successful people learn to take feedback well. What it seems she was actually referring to was “constructive feedback” or what is sometimes thinly disguised criticism. While it is true we all need to learn from our mistakes, whether pointed out to us in the form of “feedback” or ones we spot ourselves, why, oh why, when we refer to “feedback” do we automatically mean the negative?

From my studies in positive psychology, of course I know the answer… Human beings are predisposed to look for the negative first; that has been our natural survival instinct. But being wired to see the negative is very different from actively encouraging it at work.

Of course managers need to address poor performance, point out mistakes and help correct behaviour. But they also need to let people know what they are doing right. And people do things right far more often than the frequency of positive feedback would lead us to believe.

 

Employ the 5:1 ratio

There is a growing body of research on couples, begun by John Gottman, which indicates that the ratio of positive and negative feedback needs to be more than balanced for healthy relationships. In fact, Gottmann found that the ideal ratio is 5:1 – yes that is five pieces of genuine positive feedback, or positive interaction, for every one piece of constructive/developmental/negative/howeveryouwanttophraseit feedback. This is now being studied in the workplace too.

Other research indicates that the positive feedback will only be effective if the feedback giver is held in esteem by the receiver. For instance relentless praise quickly becomes meaningless, it is the 5:1 balance of positive and negative that works.

 

In the Workplace

Is it little wonder that engagement at work in the UK is low, when we don’t train managers on how to give positive feedback?

So what can be done? One way tip to give a boost to the morale of your staff is simply to identify something they have done well and let them know. Too many things are saved for the annual review, and too little is said during the course of every day. Meetings focus on problems to be addressed, but why not start them by celebrating one thing that has gone well? That will, as positive psychologist Barbara Fredrikson discovered, encourage greater problem solving skills and generate more innovative ideas. Fredrikson coined the term “broaden & build” for this effect.

Looking back to when I was the manager of an international banking team, I now realise I could have done this better myself; but back then nobody had trained me in the importance of positive feedback.  So if you do manage a team, please start your meetings on a positive note, catch people doing things right and let them know… and remember the 5:1 ratio.

 

Today is the UN International Day of Happiness.  But can you create happiness by deliberate acts? And what happens if you don’t feel happy?

Psychologists have researched many ways to increase individual levels of happiness, community happiness and create a happier society.  Indeed, Action for Happiness, run their own 8-week course on Exploring what Matters to help individuals understand these different levels and encourage us all to take some action in anyone of those areas.

But what is happiness?

Happiness is a fleeting, positive emotion.  I like to use the analogy of a rainbow… there are times when you see it, there are times when you feel it but you cannot really touch it.  To experience happiness you need to also experience sadness and a whole spectrum of emotions in between; to see a rainbow there needs to be both sunshine AND rain.  So, today, the #internationaldayofhappiness please don’t feel compelled to be happy, just notice how you are feeling.

Having studied positive psychology for the past two years I have become increasingly aware that the media’s view of creating happiness is not the same as an individuals reality.  We might think the new car, the bigger TV, the flash clothes will bring us happiness. And to be fair, for a short while they do.  But not a meaningful type of happiness.  When we buy these material things, we experience hedonic adaptation… that is our spike of happiness soon fades and we return to our previous normal way of being and feeling.  To get the next spike of positive emotions it often needs to be an even flashier car, even bigger TV or more expensive clothes.

So what does bring happiness?

Rainbow over Flamborough Head

Flamborough Head

Living a meaningful life (defined by what you consider to be meaningful) is one way as that creates what psychologists call eudaimonic happiness.

I prefer a mix of both hedonic and eudaimonic happiness…

…by doing what I love,  giving to others through volunteering activities, walking my springer spaniel and my own hedonic pleasure which comes in the form of 85% dark chocolate!

As some of you will know in September 2013 I embarked on a two-year programme of study, for a masters in positive psychology (MAPP).  On doing so I discovered that many people equate the term positive psychology with positive thinking, The Secret or the Law of Attraction.  while they all have “positive intent” as a common thread, that is where the similarities end.

To explain a little more about what Positive Psychology is here’s a video:

What is Positive Psychology

Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar

A great read. Well-researched and gives us permission to be human.

However, that’s not the whole story.  The video focuses on Martin Seligman’s PERMA model (Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishment).  I recently came across another way of explaining Positive Psychology, by Tal Ben-Shahar, who has written the book Happier.  Tal Ben-Shahar has the wonderful phrase of giving ourselves “permission to be human”.  This embodies the concept of positive psychology perfectly to me; it is about experiencing the ups and the downs of life, being real and being realistic (see my earlier post on optimism).

Positive Psychology is not about denying the negatives in life, the events we wish hadn’t happened, or the feelings we wish would go away.  It is the scientific study of what enables people to be fully human, to experience more of the ups by choice, taking empirically researched steps to increase their levels of well-being, meaning in life and happiness.

Not just “thinking positively”.

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