FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

March 26, 2015

The Power of Positive Thinking

Tough CookieEd. Note-I am on Spring Break this week and the Two Tough Cookies graciously agreed to provide a week of guest posts.

Wrapping up this week’s communication series, I am reminded of my own personal flaws… and I can be my own worst enemy. Nothing you’ve read these past few days should be surprising to you, but I hope they have served as a reminder on some easy things you can do to improve your communications within your organization. You need to be a “trusted resource” within your organization to be an effective change agent. Even if you aren’t leading the change efforts, just reinforcing the concepts for your organizational leaders makes you an important part of the change underway. How you present yourself to the larger organization goes a long way to reinforcing your credentials as a “trusted resource” and gives you the staying power to ride the tide of change.

Take this short quiz, and recognize your thought patterns from your answers:

  • You’ve been dieting for a while and you just lost 10 pounds. You think:
    1. This diet is taking so long I’m never going to look good in that suit for my brother’s wedding
    2. I’m proud of the self-control I’ve had so far
  • You miss your flight, and have to wait for a later one. You think:
    1. No matter what I do, something always makes me late
    2. I should have looked at the gap between connecting flights and given myself more time to change gates
  • Work rolls out a new computer app for you to use, and you are still struggling to get the hang of it. You think:
    1. I’ll embarrass myself if I ask for help
    2. I’m going to ask for help with this

In all three scenarios above, answer B is “positive thinking” because they

  • Give credit for positive outcomes
  • Identify strengths that make success possible
  • “Failures” are “foot faults” and not a personal flaw

Answer A, on the other hand, demonstrates negative thinking because

  • Success is due to luck or external factors
  • Success is random and had nothing to do with hard work
  • There’s assumption of failure and not success, and
  • Failure comes as no surprise

Circling back to Appreciative Inquiry, we already know to focus on what success looks like to you and your organization. Emotional Intelligence has you presenting yourself in the most positive way possible through the use of understanding and working with your emotions, knowing that the power to control your reactions goes a long way to controlling the outcome of your interactions with others in the workplace. Both these disciplines focus on the positives, and the Power of Positive Thinking takes it to the next level. As Gandhi is quoted as saying:

Watch your thoughts, for they become your words… Watch your words, for they become your actions…. Watch your actions, for they become your habits… Watch your habits, for they become your values…. And understand your values, for they become your destiny.

Positive thinkers are better at coping with workplace challenges. They are more resilient, they look to be part of the solution and not the problem, are more likely to ask for help, and function better in a crisis. They also tend to have an increased capacity for joy, are kinder, and less likely to feel the negative effects of stress, because they focus on what they can change. As compliance professionals, we work in a world ripe with stress of all kinds.     So how does positive thinking help us cope with workplace challenges? Here’s an example that I hope you can derive some useful tips from….

I was faced with a situation in a manufacturing plant where one worker hated another with a vengeance, and the Helpline had multiple calls from her over the course of a couple weeks, precipitating an “intervention.” The HR manager, new to the plant (but not new to HR), had thrown his hands up and said “I can’t deal with these two!” so I offered to personally come, hear them out, and help him work through a solution.

We sat the two down in a joint session, and I set some simple ground rules. Each would get 10 minutes to “present” their case and “air” their concerns, with another 5 minutes to rebut once the other had finished talking. First instance of interruption would take a minute off their “air time,” second interruption, two minutes, third interruption would and so on. Both agreed to the terms, and I tossed a coin for who would go first. The first, who had “seniority” in the plant, argued her case, and insisted that the other be reassigned to second shift so she wouldn’t have to see her face every day. The other worker stated she’d been given a hard time since day one, and learned it was because the complainant wanted her friend (who worked second shift) to get the job on first shift instead so they could have more friend time together. She then told us that first shift was important to her, because her husband worked second shift, and this meant they didn’t have to worry about day care for their kids. What was critical was that neither party had a performance issue, nor an attendance issue. It was clear to both myself and the HR manager it simply a matter of the complainant wanting her friend to get the first shift slot instead.

We “recessed” before rebuttal, and I told the HR manager that I had an idea, if he wouldn’t mind me trying something. So, using the power of positive thinking, I invited the complainant to speak with us privately, to rebut what the other employee had to say. Giving us no new “evidence” of misbehavior, after she finished speaking the “dialogue” ensued as follows:

Q: So, you’re unhappy about Employee X working the day shift, correct?
A: Yes
Q: So, you want to have a different shift than Employee X, correct?
A: Yes
Q: And you are suggesting that we move Employee X to second shift, correct?
A: Yes
Q: Are you willing to pay for day care for Employee X’s kids while she works?
A: What?
Q: I asked, are you willing to pay for day care for Employee X to have her kids watched while she works second shift?
A: You crazy or what? That’s not my responsibility! That’s her problem!
Q: Okay, but it wasn’t her problem until you insisted we change her shift. We need help figuring out how to solve this new problem if we do as you ask. Ultimately, you want her to work a different shift than you, right? That’s what you want?
A: That’s right! So she needs to be moved to second shift!
Q: Or, you can be moved to second shift, right? I mean, that will do as you ask, won’t it? You don’t have any kids at home (focus on her “strength”), so it’s what will create the least hardship for everyone, isn’t it (focus on success)? She won’t have to get day care, you won’t have to pay for her day care (win-win), you’ll get to be with your friend, you’ll have what you want (another win-win), right? So, the way I see it we have three choices in front of us: 1) we leave things alone and you leave her alone (best choice), 2) we move her to second shift and you pay her day care (worst choice for complainant and definitely not what she anticipated), or 3) you move to second shift to be with your friend (unlikely, but “accountable” choice). What do you suggest we do from those three options? The choice is yours, all you have to do is tell us what you want us to do, and there’s really no wrong answer here from those three options (all options = success) ….

The silence in the room was deafening. The HR manager later pulled me aside and told me it took everything he had to keep a straight face, and he never in his life saw such an awestruck look on a factory worker’s face. He then thanked me for helping “document” the real issue, and giving him the insight to deal with that worker going forward. I was an instant hero for Employee X, too, as a result, and the HR manager confirmed that there were no more complaints coming from the complainant.

By simply shifting the focus of the problem a little bit, I “helped” the HR manager deal with the stressful complainant, and helped each focus on what they could change and resolve the conflict at work. By intervening on his behalf, I also took on the role of “bad cop” and he was able to preserve his “good cop” image at the plant while also successfully resolving the conflict. Further more, he was able to point to the experience any time other personal conflicts arose, and offered to bring me back anytime to work through the conflicts with the employees. No one took him up on the offer, and I still chuckle when I think back on that episode.

Our brains mimic what we see, so when we spread positivity, and show people alternative ways of thinking through problems, magic happens. I had fun with the exercise above, because it gave me the opportunity to show the complainant how her negative thinking was bringing everyone around her down, when the solution to her “problem” was really simple – I empowered her to think in terms of the hardships she was presenting to others (negativity) and gave her the tools to arrive at a positive outcome, if she was willing to take on some personal accountability in the process. Instead of thinking to myself “this woman is impossible to deal with” I thought instead “how can I empower her to solve this problem herself?” Another priceless leadership moment that I will take with me forever.

So how do you manage your thoughts to ensure positive outcomes? Like any leadership exercise, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You have to be aware of what you’re doing (that’s where EQ comes in), and examine the triggers that send you into negativity. Change the critical thoughts into goals. Think about your values, and determine what it is you want to be. You don’t have to be positive all the time, nor should you – negative thinking can help you prepare, can also help you see the lighter side of things… It’s the yin to your yang, and helps you aim for balance. But practice your positivity, ask for help (go ahead, guys, ask for directions, it won’t hurt you), have a sense of humor, and enjoy yourself. And remember one thing if nothing else: You cannot be what you cannot see.

The Two Tough Cookies will be publishing a book of their tales shortly, under the title “You Can Not Be What You Can Not See” – look for it from Corporate Compliance Insights, coming soon. 

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the authors. The authors are not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. 

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