Feedback on Optimal Human Functioning: The Reflected Best Self Exercise™

Nico Rose | Jane Dutton

Nico & Jane Dutton at Ross School of Business

In mid-December, I got to spend a week in Ann Arbor at the Ross School of Business, taking part in an open enrollment course called The Positive Leader: Deep Change and Organizational Transformation. It´s a formidable tour de force through the most important frameworks and applications of Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS). I´m going to write some more about my experiences over the upcoming weeks.

Today, I´d like to share with you the Reflected Best Self Exercise™, a powerful tool that helps people to learn more about their individual strengths and what they´re like when they display some form of peak performance (from the vantage point of other people). In short, the exercise is about asking a group of people to supply you with stories of times when they perceived you to be at your best. In other words, you ask people for feedback about your strengths and capacity for peak performance – and only about that.

What other people appreciate about us tends to appreciate over time.

What´s so special about receiving only positive feedback once in a while? It´s extraordinary because we typicially hear mixed messages, e.g., as part of a performance appraisal at work. What´s the point? Rick Hanson, author of “Hardwiring Happiness”, likes to say “our mind has velcro tapes for negative and teflon layers for positive information.” Even if the usual feedback we receive is mostly positive, our brain drives us to ponder almost exclusivley on the negative (= potentially harmful) information. This mode of processing has actually helped us to survive as a species over thousands of years (please see Bad is Stronger than Good for more background) – but it also keeps us from truly taking in any positive information, unless we explicitly allow ourselves to focus on that side of the spectrum, so we can learn and grow based on who we are when we´re at our best.

Learning from what´s already (more than) good

How are we supposed to improve and grow when we´re not focusing on our weaknesses? As the saying goes, “where attention goes, energy flows” (and results show). Learning about who we are when we are at our best helps us to:

The last bullet point seems especially important to me as it points towards the so-called Pygmalion Effect, the phenomenon whereby higher expectations by others lead to an increase in actual performance. When we ask people to reflect on our positive sides, we actually help them to perceive what Jane Dutton calls the “zone of possibility”, a reservoir of untapped resources and growth potential. Via authentically pointing us towards these strengths and capabilities, they help us to become more than we currently are. This is the true nature of appreciation. The typical connotation of “to appreciate” points towards a strong form of liking. But it also means to grow in value. What other people appreciate about us tends to appreciate over time.

Reflected Best Self - Nico Rose

How does the Reflected Best Self Exercise™ work?

  1. Collect stories from a variety of people inside and outside of your work. You should receive feedback from at least 10 people. By gathering input from a variety of sources, such as family members, past and present colleagues, friends, teachers etc., you can develop a broader understanding of yourself. Specifically, ask them to supply you with short stories of episodes when they perceived you to “be at your best”. Ask for specific and tangible examples, not general impressions.
  2. Recognize patterns and common themes: After gathering those stories, read through them carefully, allowing yourself to take and savor in the positive content. Then, go through them several times, making mark-ups and remarks with a pen. The goal is to searche for common themes and recurring patterns within the different stories. These commonalities will serve as the base for your “Best Self Description”.
  3. Then, write a description of yourself that summarizes and distills the accumulated information. The description should weave themes from the feedback into a concise “medley” of who you are at your best. This portrait is not meant to be a complete psychological profile. Rather, it should be an illuminating image you can use as a reminder of your contributions and as a guide for future action (you can see the result of my own process in the picture on the right).
  4. Redesign your job (optional): Now that you you have crafted your “Best Self Description”, what are you supposed to with it? To start, it´s a very good idea to hang a print-out in some corner of your office so as to have an easily accesible reminder of you can be, for those times when things become stressful (and they always do in large organizations). This will help you to keep your composure and look beyond the constraints of the current situation. In the long run, it´s definitly useful to think about the larger implications of your best self:
    • To what extent is your current job playing to your strengths?
    • Can you change your current task and responsibilties so as to better reflect your best self? (please see: Job Crafting)
    • Or should you maybe think about a change of careers to realize your full potential?

I hope you will have tons of fun and insightful moments with this framework; I surely did. By the way, I´ve found out earlier this also works perfectly using social media channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn. You can read my account of this “experiment” here.

Resources

You can find a full description of the Reflected Best Self Exercise™, its application, and the underlying research via these articles:

You´ll find lots of resources with regard to the Reflected Best Self Exercise™ on the website of the the Center for Positive Organizations at Ross School of Business.

The Center for Positive Organizations: My Top-10 List of Research Papers

This is some stuff you should definitely check out if you´re in HR, or an (aspiring) leader – or if you want to up your game in general with regard to understanding positive organizations. All links lead you to PDFs of the respective articles.

Cameron, K. S., Bright, D., & Caza, A. (2004). Exploring the relationships between organizational virtuousness and performance. American Behavioral Scientist, 47(6), 766-790.

Cameron, K., Mora, C., Leutscher, T., & Calarco, M. (2011). Effects of positive practices on organizational effectiveness. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47(3), 266-308.

Dutton, J. E., Worline, M. C., Frost, P. J., & Lilius, J. (2006). Explaining compassion organizing. Administrative Science Quarterly, 51(1), 59-96.

Heaphy, E. D., & Dutton, J. E. (2008). Positive social interactions and the human body at work: Linking organizations and physiology. Academy of Management Review, 33(1), 137-162.

Mayer, D. M., Aquino, K., Greenbaum, R. L., & Kuenzi, M. (2012). Who displays ethical leadership, and why does it matter? An examination of antecedents and consequences of ethical leadership. Academy of Management Journal, 55(1), 151-171.

Owens, B. P., Baker, W. E., Sumpter, D. M., & Cameron, K. S. (2016). Relational energy at work: Implications for job engagement and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(1), 35-49.

Roberts, L. M., Dutton, J. E., Spreitzer, G. M., Heaphy, E. D., & Quinn, R. E. (2005). Composing the reflected best-self portrait: Building pathways for becoming extraordinary in work organizations. Academy of Management Review, 30(4), 712-736.

Spreitzer, G. M., Kizilos, M. A., & Nason, S. W. (1997). A dimensional analysis of the relationship between psychological empowerment and effectiveness, satisfaction, and strain. Journal of Management, 23(5), 679-704.

Spreitzer, G., Sutcliffe, K., Dutton, J., Sonenshein, S., & Grant, A. M. (2005). A socially embedded model of thriving at work. Organization Science, 16(5), 537-549.

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 179-201.

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Unsplash.com – Creator: rawpixel

 

The Center for Positive Organizations at University of Michigan: a Book List

Kim Cameron | Nico RoseI´m the luckiest guy in the world. I get to spend the week at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, more precisely: the Ross of Business. Part of the Ross School is the Center for Positive Organizations – which without exaggeration can be described as the global focal point for research and application(s) of Positive Psychology in business (Positive Organizational Scholarship). It´s home to POS luminaries such as Kim Cameron, Jane Dutton, and Robert Quinn. Additionally, some of the big shots in the field have completed their Ph.D. studies here, among them Adam Grant and Amy Wrzesniewski.

I´m going to provide an overview of what I´ve learned here at a later point in time. For today, I´d like to provide a book list of works that been crafted by faculty of  the Center for Positive Organizations. After is, Christmas is coming up soon – and you might still be looking for something for your loved ones (or yourself)…

Also, watch out for Wayne Bakers upcoming book “Just Ask”…

How to Replenish Your Energy at Work? Hint: It´s Not the Caffeine

Man_Cookie_kleinMost of us know these days: You´re rushing from one meeting to another, squeezing in those important calls with the tax consultant and your child´s class teacher – while desperately trying to finish that presentation for your boss which is due at 06:00 pm. This is what days at the office look like for a lot of who earn their money as so-called knowledge workers.

To make it through days like this (and perform well!), maintaining a high level of subjective energy is paramount. In the words of Jane Dutton (Center for Positive Organizations at Ross School of Business), human energy is the “fuel” that helps organizations run successfully. Here, an interesting question arises: How do people manage – and in the case of depletion – replenish their energy while still at the office?

This issue was addressed in a paper by researchers Charlotte Fritz, Chak Fu Lam, and Gretchen Spreitzer via an article in “Academy of Management Perspectives” from 2011. In order to do so, they surveyed 214 knowledge workers across all hierarchical levels on their subjective levels of energy (separate for presence and depletion of vitality) throughout their work days – and additionally assessed what kind of (micro-)strategies these people employ to maintain their energetic balance – and how often they use certain strategies compared to others.  Here´s the key takeaway:

When trying to recharge at work, most people get it wrong most of the time!

Among the most frequently used micro-strategies to recharge were:

  • drinking water or coffee, or having a snack;
  • checking e-mails, switching to another task, or making a to-do list;
  • surfing the net or talking to a colleague about non-work issues (e.g., sports).

In the study, none of these behaviors was associated with a heightened energy level, and some were actually connected to further depletion. Instinctively, many people seem to resort to strategies that shift their attention away from the current task. Yet, the scholars show this may be a severe case of looking in the wrong direction. Those energy management strategies found to be most positively related to vitality are:

  1. learning something new;
  2. focusing on what provides joy in work;
  3. setting a new goal;
  4. doing something that will make a colleague happy;
  5. make time to show gratitude to a colleague;
  6. seeking feedback;
  7. reflecting on how to make a difference at work;
  8. reflecting on the meaning of one´s work.

It´s a mental, or sometimes, emotional shift that breeds success.

In a nutshell, all of these strategies are work-related and reflect notions of learning, relationships, and meaning at work. Accordingly, the key to fill your batteries while at work may be to see your job with different eyes without taking your mind off the tasks at hand. It´s a mental, or sometimes, emotional shift that breeds success.

By the way: The only functional non-job-related strategy in the study was taking time to meditate. What about micro-strategies like taking a short nap or going for a walk? Fritz et al. found that these activities were related neither to the presence nor the depletion of energy – they just didn´t matter all that much. The researchers conclude that these strategies may have more potent effects as sources of recovery while being away from work, e.g., during evenings or weekends.

10 more Blogs on Positive Psychology and adjacent You Need to Know

IMG_2317A while ago, I posted a list of 10 blogs on Positive Psychology and adjacent I frequently visit. Back then, I already said it was hard to limit the selection to only 10 sites. Therefore, here´s another curated list of cool Positive Psychology blogs. Share and enjoy!

Eric Barker writes Barking Up The Wrong Tree. He brings you science-based answers and expert insight on how to be awesome at life. His content has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Wired Magazine and Time Magazine.

The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley (co-founded by Professor Dacher Keltner) “studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society”. They frequently publish articles by their own staff as well as guest articles by eminent researchers.

In their own words, The Creativity Post (co-founded by Scott Barry Kaufman) is “a non-profit web platform committed to sharing the very best content on creativity, in all of its forms: from scientific discovery to philosophical debate, from entrepreneurial ventures to educational reform, from artistic expression to technological innovation – in short, to all the varieties of the human experience that creativity brings to life.”

The Center for Positive Organizations (staff includes Professors Jane Dutton, Kim Cameron, Robert Quinn, and Gretchen Spreitzer) based at the Ross School of Business (University of Michigan) seeks to “inspire and enable leaders to build high-performing organizations that bring out the best in people. We are a catalyst for the creation and growth of positive organizations.” They regularly publish articles by the aforementioned researchers and scholars in Positive Organizational Scholarship.

Paula Davis-Laack is a fellow Penn MAPP alum and writes a regular column called Pressure Proof about “strategies and stories for busy, complicated lives” on Psychology Today.

In their own words, The Pursuit of Happiness is a “group of psychologists, philosophers, educators, and web professionals dedicated to the advancement of scientific knowledge about happiness and depression prevention. We provide science-based information on life skills and habits needed to enhance well-being, build resilience against depression and anxiety, and pursue a meaningful life.” Professor Todd Kashdan is one of the contributors.

Happiness by Design is a column on Psychology Today by London School of Economics´ Professor Paul Dolan. It doesn’t update very often by the posts are cool to read.

Action for Happiness is a movement of people committed to building a happier and more caring society. We want to see a fundamentally different way of life – where people care less about what they can get just for themselves and more about the happiness of others. Sir Richard Layard is among the founders. They publish compelling pieces by top-tier Positive Psychology researchers and experts in their news section.

To my mind, Michael Tomoff is one of the few people who write stuff worth reading on Positive Psychology in German. His blog is called Was wäre wenn? (What if?).

The last one is a sort of honorable mention. The late Professor Christopher Peterson published an immensely insightful and oftentimes very funny Positive Psychology blog via Psychology Today called The Good Life. Even though it has not been updated ever since 2012 (for obvious reasons), I revisit it frequently for inspiration.

Being your Best on the Job: The Case of Thriving at Work

A couple of days ago, I shared some videos where Kim Cameron elaborates on his ideas about organizational energy. Yesterday, I stumbled upon an adjacent concept that I find equally interesting: Thriving (at work). It was first described by a group of researchers comprising – among others – Gretchen Spreitzer and MAPP lecturers Jane Dutton and Adam Grant.

Striving is a seen as a two-dimensional construct. In short, we experience ourselves as striving when we feel a sense of a) vitality and b) learning. More precisely, vitality represents a sense that one is energized and has a zest for work. Learning, in turn, is signified by the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills to build capability and confidence.Together, these dimensions capture both the affective (vitality) and cognitive (learning) essence of the psychological experience of personal growth (Porath, Spreitzer, Gibson & Garnett, 2011).

There is some preliminary evidence that the experience of thriving as depicted above is significantly linked to favorable outcomes such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and even performance. In this paper, a questionnaire for the measurement of thriving is described. If you´re interested, please watch this short video of Gretchen Spreitzer describing the concept. Enjoy!