Do you have a bad boss who’s sucking all the joy from your life? Chances are it’s costing you money, success, health and happiness.
Did you know happier employees have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, receive higher performance ratings and higher pay and enjoy more job security?
In fact, the latest scientific evidence from more than 200 studies of 275,000 people around the world tells us that happiness and positivity doesn’t simply reflect success and fulfillment; it also produces it in nearly every domain of life, including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity and energy.
Is your bad boss is keeping you from all of this?
While I certainly was relieved to escape each bad boss I’ve encountered at work, it wasn’t until I met Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina, often described as the “genius of positive psychology”, that I really started to understand what these bosses where costing by robbing me of positive emotions like joy, interest and pride in my work.
Barb explained our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best – not when they’re negative or even neutral – but when they’re positive. A rare state when you’re enduring a bad boss.
Yet Barb’s research has repeatedly demonstrated that positivity – or the lack thereof – doesn’t just change the contents of our mind, trading bad thoughts for good ones; it also changes the scope or boundaries of our psyche by broadening and building us.
Positivity opens us up to be more creative and receptive – even towards a bad boss. Studies show that it literally expands our peripheral vision, allowing us to see more than we typically do. In addition, it floods our brains with dopamine and serotonin and enables us to make and sustain more neural connections so that we can organize new information, think more quickly and creatively, become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving, and see and invent new ways of doing things when it comes to managing our bad boss.
It also alters how we see our connections with others so that we look past what separates us – like racial differences – and think more in terms of “we” and less in terms of “me”. It can help us be more tolerant towards others – perhaps even a bad boss.
The best part is by opening our hearts and minds, positive emotions allow us to discover and build new skills, new ties, new knowledge, and new ways of being. As our positive emotions accrue, they also build up our psychological, intellectual, social and physical resources, leaving us better equipped to face a bad boss.
We become more optimistic, more resilient, more open, more accepting, and more driven by purpose. And what’s more, we cultivate more open-minded mental habits, ignite better connections with others and improve our biological markers for health so that we can lower our blood pressure, experience less pain, have fewer colds and sleep better. Leaving you in perfect form to overcome your bad boss!
My favorite part of Barb’s research is her discovery that positivity obeys a tipping point – even in the face of a bad boss. She’s found when we encounter at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that uplift us, for every heart-wrenching negative emotional experience we endure, a tipping point occurs, which predicts our ability to see new opportunities, bounce back from setbacks, connect more with others, and reach our potential.
As part of her work she also notes that appropriate negativity – that we can learn from rather than be shamed by – is a necessary ingredient in life, which keeps us grounded in reality and may even provide a practical use for a bad boss. Barb suggests that the goal is not to banish heart-wrenching negative emotions, but to balance them with enough heartfelt, positive ones (around 3 to 1) so that they no longer leave us to languish.
You can increase your relative positivity (our “positive ratio”) when it comes to your bad boss in three ways by:
This doesn’t mean painting on a smiling face, wishing away your bad boss with positive thinking, or pretending they don’t exist. Rather, it’s about creating moments of heartfelt joy, gratitude, peace, curiosity, hope, pride, laughter, inspiration, awe, and love that arise from how you interpret events and ideas as they unfold – inspite of your bad boss!
You can boost your positivity levels to deal with your bad boss by:
Barb told me that a few years ago she came across a greeting card that read: “Life gives us negativity on its own. It’s our job to create positivity.” She said she liked this phrasing because it reminds us that positivity is a choice – even with a bad boss – a choice we all need to make again and again, day after day.
As a result of all she taught me, I’m particularly careful to gauge the balance of positivity to negativity in my life by using her free five minute Positivity Test online. When I find it falling below three to one I use many of these strategies to improve the way I’m feeling about work.