Optimism Could be Overrated

Julie Shenkman
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The peppiest people in an office never let anything get them down. These co-workers always have an optimistic outlook and a positive attitude towards work, family, friends and life. They constantly look on the bright side and believe anything can be accomplished. However, this optimistic outlook may not result in good performance.

A March 2015 study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reveals people with the most positive attitude do not necessarily perform better, generate more sales or work more reliably than colleagues who are more cynical. Years of studies examine how positive feelings lead to higher math scores and better efficiency on other tasks, but the same does not correlate to office settings. Researchers found an optimistic outlook may lead to unnecessary risks at work. The reason stems from someone who may view numbers, data and reports with a biased attitude rather than an analytical perspective that values accurate information.

An optimistic outlook does matter in co-workers with regards to social interaction. Bosses, co-workers, colleagues, customers and clients appreciate happy attitudes in people at the office. Many self-help gurus purport concepts such as the power of positive thinking that cross over from someone's personal life into a professional setting.

The study examined the aspect of American culture that seems to believe an optimistic outlook makes desirable outcomes more likely, and that this optimism leads to better chances of success. In one part of the study, researchers told one group they believed participants would score high on a test. The other group was told it would score badly. Both groups scored approximately the same.

Another experiment used "Where's Waldo?" books. Optimistic people took longer to find the titular character, whereas more pessimistic people located the protagonist faster. Optimism did lead to more persistence, and pessimistic people seemed to give up sooner. However, businesses value skills and talent over persistence. Business leadership and CEOs represent the most prominent jobs where optimism pays off the most since leaders must inspire employees and be persistent to run entire companies.

Remaining positive during a job search when leads run dry also marks someone who persists through tough times. Cheerful people find ways to keep busy, stay focused on the task of finding a job and perform self-care during slow times of job searches. A positive demeanor during times of unemployment could lead to a healthier outlook on life in general. However, researchers conclude the study reveals optimism on test performance may be overshadowed by actual competence and ability. This study does not undermine the importance of positive feelings towards life outcomes.

An optimistic outlook by positive people can bring smiles and cheers to those around them, and it may lead them to persist during hard times. However, these optimistic people must remember their bosses may require skills and talents the most when it comes to crunchtime.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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