People often use the word “positive” or “negative” casually to refer to the general feel of a situation, person or organization. To those of us who are positive psychology practitioners, the word “positive” refer to the focus, emotions and behaviors that are generative and result in productivity, engagement and positive emotion like creativity.
According to Jane Dutton of the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan, positive organizational scholarship refers to the study of positive psychology or flourishing in the context of organizations. Organizations that help their employees flourish would therefore focus on strengths, engagement, positive emotion, a sense of shared meaning and positive relationships. Managers would help employees to be successful, feel empowered and confident, which ultimately improves performance, worker satisfaction and retention.
I’m not sure whether someone has defined a negative organization. The absence of a positive organization does not necessarily imply that the organization is negative. Even the presence of negative emotion is not an indicator of a negative organization since negative emotion is part of the normal range of human response and can also be adaptive under certain circumstances. Perhaps if behavior and emotion are on a spectrum or even a bell curve, then the majority of organizations are probably somewhere between what might be defined as a positive and negative organization.
Given there appears to be no definition for a negative organization (my apologies to research I may have missed, I didn’t really look that hard), we can assume that the focus, emotions and behaviors are unproductive in a negative organization. Do we spend most of our time looking for problems, punishing and correcting, treating each other as irrelevant, obstacles or means to an end? Do we tend to feel discouraged or inspired, ignored or appreciated, helpless or empowered, indifferent or motivated?
The good news is that all organizations can learn to adopt more positive behaviors and improve the culture. What does your organization do that moves it to the negative end of the spectrum? What can be changed easily? Is the organization aware of the impact of the negative practices on the bottom line? Have you been settling for a culture that fosters negative emotion and conflict?
I know it’s tough to just change jobs in this economy, but in the end we have a collective responsibility to cultivate the best possible culture and outcomes for our organization. Self-awareness as an individual and an organization is the starting point for improving effectiveness and leadership. This change and awareness may have to start with you.