Positive Psychology: Shifting from what’s wrong to what’s right
In the field of training and HPI, we often spend a great deal of our time and resources finding out what’s wrong with individuals and organizations, but what if we shifted our assessment to also consider what is right? Two clinical psychologists created a movement when they asked psychologists to shift their view of therapy from pathology to potential.
The discipline of positive psychology emerged when Martin Seligman, as the incoming president of the American Psychology Association, delivered his inaugural address challenging his constituents to shift their preoccupation from what is wrong and dysfunctional to what is right and good about people by focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses, and health and vitality rather than illness and pathology (Seligman, 1998; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). He proposed a positive approach to study the conditions and processes that lead to flourishing and optimum performance.
Positive psychology has three areas of central concern or three pillars that form the basis of its implementation.
Pillar 1: Positive experiences. Understanding positive emotions involves the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future.
Pillar 2: Positive individual traits: Understanding positive individual traits involves the study of strengths, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom.
Pillar 3: Postive institutions: Understanding positive institutions entails the study of the strengths that foster better communities, such as justice, responsibility, civility, parenting, nurturance, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, purpose, and tolerance.
Since the concept of positive psychology was first presented in 1998, the field has expanded to include applications for workplace learning and performance, particularly in the field of coaching. The link between positive psychology and coaching is well documented, given their shared emphasis on self-development, change, and wellbeing, with coaching identified as a vehicle to apply the principals of positive psychology at an individual level. In turn, positive psychology serves as the science at the heart of coaching by supplying a coherent framework, empirical validation, and reliable assessment (Kauffman, 2006).
If you’d like to learn more about positive psychology, visit Penn’s Positive Psychology Center, and while you are there, take a look at the variety of tools and assessments that have emerged to measure aspects of positive psychology.
Although I do not believe that we can develop performance interventions or training based only on “what’s right” with workers or organizations, we really need to consider deficits to develop solutions; it can be both uplifting and encouraging to also consider the positive when we conduct analysis and need assessment.
Questions for discussion:
How might we incorporate principles of positive psychology in the practice of human performance improvement?
What are the benefits of also considering positive aspects of performance when conducting analysis?
Kauffman, C. (2006). Positive psychology: The science at the heart of coaching. In D. Stober & A. M. Grant (Eds.), Evidence-based coaching handbook: Putting best practices to work for your clients (pp. 219–253). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Seligman, M. E (1998). What is the good life? APA Monitor, 29(10), 2.
Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology. An introduction. The American Psychologist, 55(1), 5–14.