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26 Sep

"I used to believe strongly in positive thinking - there's always a bright side to everything and if I'm not seeing it, it's because of a failure in me, not the situation," says Carol, who works as a recruiter in a finance company in Auckland.

"I would always be more likely to give the nod to people who seemed positive in interviews.
"And I definitely still think that it's the upbeat, can-do people who get the jobs. As a recruiter, I always looked for those qualities. Positive people enhance a workplace, they're good for the workplace culture.
"But because of my own experiences - I've come to realise that sometimes being overly optimistic can be a flaw.

"A few years ago I was in a job where "positivity" was always spoken about and was something that was expected from everybody. "Be positive, look on the bright side, the glass is half full' - all that.

"The problem was, with all the positivity nobody noticed what was going wrong, what we could be doing better. Employees were scared to go to management and name systemic problems because they'd get short shift and be told not to think so negatively. They needed to be more positive and not moan about things.

"In the end all this positive thinking turned out to be wishful thinking - the business failed and the staff were left high and dry. I think it failed because management refused to see the problems and therefore did nothing about them."

Research shows that having a positive mindset can be extremely helpful and increases resilience in an individual - if you go into a job interview with a positive outlook, it will help you seem more open, friendly and confident. If you don't seem confident that you can do the job that you're applying for, of course the people interviewing you will pick up that maybe you can't and therefore employ somebody else who in actual fact would not do as good a job as you would.

The danger, however, is that with too much positive thinking you may not do the research into the company and interview preparation that you should because you're thinking: "I'll get the job - all I need is to be positive about it."

Taking short cuts because you're "sure" everything will be fine and are positive that you'll be able to handle the interview could lead to a difficult interview with no job at the end. Of course confidence built out of real know-how and preparation can be a lot more valuable than just being "positive" that you'll get the job.

So perhaps it's better to think about showing enthusiasm for the job and what the company is doing, and how you can add value to it than simply being positive that you'll get the job.

In short, positive thinking can get in the way of realistic thinking. There is a risk of going to a job interview all pumped up with affirmations and little substance concerning the job you're actually interviewing for.

So what about positive thinking when you're in a job? Certainly workplaces don't like people who moan and ruminate about everything that's going badly.

I have often heard people say: "When so and so comes into work the atmosphere changes. Everything feels so much gloomier and depressing - I wish he'd just lighten up. Nothing seems to be right for him. I'm dreading going to work because morale gets so low when he's around."

And of course if you're always looking for what's negative, you'll find it in bucket loads, you will probably also find that the company does not promote you as you're seen as a "downer".
Also, it's well documented that when an organisation is going through a lot of change it's usually the "positive" people who survive and get promoted and the nay sayers and pessimists who get made redundant or have their job "downsized". Managers who are dealing with companies in flux of course want people who are willing to go for the ride, even if it's a difficult one.

However, according to a 2016 article in Newsweek by Morgan Mitchell, the tyranny of positive thinking can have a dire effect on our workplaces, society and health. He says that the general acceptance that you can be happy if you simply choose to be can shame people who are suffering from anxiety or depression, or even just having negative feelings from time to time. This, of course, can increase their anxiety or depression.

Trying to see things positively can also keep people in a job, blaming themselves that they're unhappy when the workplace is simply not the right environment for them and does not fit into their values.

It's interesting to note that workplace bullies will often use the ideas of positivity to get at their targets. It has been known that they sometimes create a bullying situation by commenting to the colleagues around the target about how "negative" that person is getting others who want to seem "positive" to ostracise that person.

Mitchell writes in his article: "A 2012 study undertaken at the University of Queensland and published in the journal Emotion found that when people think others expect them to not feel negative emotions, they end up feeling more negative emotions.

"A 2009 study published in Psychological Science found that forcing people to use positive statements such as "I'm a lovable person" can make some feel more insecure.

"Further, New York University psychology professor Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues have found that visualising a successful outcome, under certain conditions, can make people less likely to achieve it.

"Researchers have also found that people in a negative mood produce better quality and more persuasive arguments than people in a positive mood, and that negative moods can improve memory."

There is research that shows that positive people experience many rewards for their positivity, but if you're someone who generally is more pessimistic, reading a self-helf book about being more positive and doing affirmations do not necessarily help.

One thing that could help create a more positive mindset is keeping a "gratitude journal" - each day writing three things that happened in the day that you're pleased about or grateful for.
In short, yes, a positive outlook can help you get that job and help you get promoted - but it can also be damaging to both you and the company you work for.

It all comes down to balance.