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Learn & Practice

Workplace Wednesday: How to Nurture a Positivity Bias toward Colleagues

By The Healthy Minds Team

In this week’s Workplace Wednesday we explore how to train your mind to encourage your positivity bias toward colleagues.

Photo by AllGo on Unsplash 

If you work at a place long enough, many things start to become routine, including your perceptions and beliefs about your colleagues, direct reports and supervisors. And of course, since our brain defaults to a negativity bias, sometimes these beliefs and perceptions can negatively color your relationships at work. At Healthy Minds Innovations we believe that you can train your mind for greater well-being, and that includes building the skills to question your negativity bias and encourage your positivity bias toward colleagues. This approach leverages two of the pillars in the Healthy Minds Framework for Well-Being: insight and connection. Here’s how.

In the insight pillar, we develop the skills of self-knowledge concerning how our emotions, thoughts, and beliefs shape our experiences and sense of self. As an aid to your work relationships it can be a smart way to break your patterns of negative perception. For example, if as a supervisor you default to “opportunity improvements” for your direct report, this can skew your overall perception of their performance – which can in turn, skew their self-confidence, reducing morale.

This can be true beyond the supervisor-direct report relationship as well. If all you hear when your boss gives you feedback are the negative items (even if there are also positive items stated) then you are reinforcing your negative bias and your negative perception of both your own work and your supervisor. Nothing crashes excitement and energy easier than assuming everyone has only negative things to offer.

So, after we’ve invested some time using insight to notice our negativity bias in the workplace – it’s time to train our mind with connection – skills associated with promoting supportive relationships and supportive interactions. This is really a three step process: 

  1. Notice something positive
  2. Pause and reflect on this positive moment
  3. Reinforce this positivity with specific actions

Here’s an example from the point of view of a supervisor:

  1. You notice your direct report did something great.
  2. Stop and think about what made this particular action great. Did she or he go above and beyond? Take earlier feedback and incorporate it seamlessly? Work well collaboratively?
  3. Give your direct report this positive feedback with specifics either in-person or with a note. “That was great this morning when you reached out to the sales team so they wouldn’t be surprised about the upcoming project. Great collaboration and proactive problem solving!”

Now you’ve not only trained your mind to notice your direct report’s positive contributions – you’ve also given him or her a positive boost. Not only will you be more open to noticing their positive work, they will associate positive feelings with your recognition of the work – creating an infinite positivity cycle!

This can work across all workplace relationships – not just a direct report/supervisor dynamic. If you have tension with a peer, for example, can you use the same three step process to break the rut of negativity?

  1. Notice your peer putting in the extra effort during a presentation.
  2. Stop and think about what you appreciate specifically about this extra effort.
  3. Share, or simply go through the act of sharing (i.e. writing down your thoughts without sending) these specific actions and why they had a positive impact on your workplace.

Repeat as needed. Like all things related to training the mind – consistency is key. Keeping up the habit of noticing the positive will not be easy at first, but once you start, it can eventually become routine. Overcoming our negativity bias can be challenging, but the rewards for both you, your colleagues, and your workplace will be worth it!


Learn more about how the Healthy Minds Framework can support your workplace well-being with our Healthy Minds @Work program. Dive deeper into the scientific framework for well-being by registering for our Healthy Minds Masterclass: Founders Edition.


HM@Work Mental Health Workplace Wednesdays