Dr Amy Climer

Dealing with Negativity with Dr. Tina Hallis

For this blog I have invited guest Dr. Tina Hallis to share her knowledge and expertise on positive psychology and how it relates to teams. She has a new book out called Sharpen Your Positive Edge: Shifting Your Thoughts for More Positivity and Success.

A client recently asked me for advice on how to shift a negative meeting to be more positive. Given your background in positive psychology, what advice do you have for team leaders or team members to help them redirect a meeting to be more positive and productive?

This is a common challenge in our workplaces. Michelle Gielan, a researcher in Positive Psychology recently shared a couple of ideas that are perfect for this situation.

One approach is to influence the meeting tone by shifting conversations from being problem-focused to discussing solutions to those problems. In one study, half of the participants were given an article about a problem, and the other half read an article that talked about that same problem, plus five potential solutions. The group that was also given solutions experienced a 20 percent increase in creative problem-solving on subsequent, unrelated tasks, and their moods improved.

Another great strategy is to start the meeting on a positive note. This is my favorite!  Michelle studies how words impact our mood and has found that the words we use to start a conversation impact the direction it will take. If we take the initiative to speak first and say something positive, it sets the tone and points the discussion in an upbeat direction.  She calls this the “power lead.”  

Meetings tend to focus on problems.  When we start them by sharing something positive such as good news about a project, a co-worker, or voicing appreciation for someone’s work, we shift the energy.  According to research by Barbara Fredrickson, increasing people’s positivity at the beginning helps them see beyond the problems and notice more opportunities and possibilities.

Obviously, we can’t control the behaviors of colleagues. How would you recommend dealing with a particularly negative coworker?

A couple of key things to remember is that our emotions are contagious so paying attention to our own positivity is key in our interactions with others. Another important point is that people’s level of positivity varies from person to person; it is easier for some than others and a significant factor is our genetics.  Here are a few other suggestions than can help.

  • We can’t change other people. We can only try to be a good influence and infect them with our positive attitude (emotional contagion). Good or bad, we are not responsible for their attitudes or lives.
  • Other people’s words and actions are about them and their problems. Whatever negativity they aim at us is really a result of their own issues.  “People who are not happy with themselves cannot possibly be happy with you.” – author unknown
  • We need to build our own internal resources so we can be more resilient and resistant to the “problems” of others.  Adding more positivity to our day can be a big help.
  • We can practice not letting others emotionally trigger us. We can think of them as teachers helping us to learn patience, tolerance, and calmness.
  • We can surround ourselves with upbeat positive people who make us feel good to help offset the negative people. We can try to limit our time with the negative coworker, if possible.  
  • We can try to avoid dwelling on the things that frustrate us about this person. Instead, we can notice and focus on their good traits. Maybe they assume the worst, but maybe they are also very helpful or have a good sense of humor.

You recently wrote a new book called Sharpen Your Positive Edge about positive psychology, can you share one or two favorite tips for teams from the book?

The section from the book on Building Positive Relationships has several great tips for helping teams communication, cooperate, and connect.  For example, #54 – Watch Out for These Five Triggers: Social situations that can set off our natural threat responses.  Here’s an excerpt.  

Studies by David Rock of the Neuroleadership Institute and others have found five social situations that can trigger our natural survival threat response. This instinctive response can make us feel as if we were in actual physical danger (2008). His SCARF model identifies these social interactions as:

  • Status: Situations that challenge our social or professional standing.
  • Certainty: Situations where we feel uncertain and feel we don’t have all the information we need.
  • Autonomy: Situations where we don’t feel in control and feel we don’t have choices.
  • Relatedness: Situations where we don’t feel a connection with the other person; they seem very different in their ideas or appearance.
  • Fairness: Situations where we’ve been mistreated or have been accused of being unfair.

Why is this important to know? Whether it’s interactions with our colleagues, friends, or family, it’s very helpful to be aware of these triggers so we can avoid saying or doing something to set off the other person’s threat response. It’s also valuable to recognize our own strong reactions and realize it’s our survival instincts kicking in.

Another helpful tip for teams is #58 – You Disagree?  How Interesting!  Using curiosity to override defensiveness.  We each have different life experiences and different personalities that contribute to our different perspectives. No wonder we have different ideas compared to other people on our teams. Deep down, we know this individual uniqueness is good, but when we disagree with someone, we can feel frustrated that they don’t see things our way.

How can we put aside our differences and our need to be right? Wouldn’t it be better, instead of getting defensive, to think, How interesting! How interesting that I’m reacting and feeling this way. How interesting that they have different ideas. Let me be curious and ask questions to help me understand their point of view. When we choose this open-minded approach, it not only makes it easier and more fun to communicate and collaborate—we end up discovering more opportunities and better ways of doing things.

As always, great insights from Dr. Tina Hallis. You can buy Tina’s new book here.  

About Dr. Tina Hallis

Tina Hallis, Ph.D. is a scientist who decided to break away from her career of over 20 years in biotechnology to pursue a new path as a positivity speaker and trainer. Her discovery of Positive Psychology in 2011 motivated her to spread the word about this life changing science that helps people live their best, most meaningful lives. As part of her mission, she became certified in Positive Psychology through the WholeBeing Institute and founded her company, The Positive Edge. Tina now uses her scientific background to translate the research and studies in Positive Psychology so organizations and individuals can use it to achieve higher performance and greater success. Tina now shares her message with thousands of people through her programs, weekly positivity tips, and products.

For more details about Tina’s speaking, training, and products, please visit ThePositiveEdge.net where you can also sign up to receive weekly positivity tips like the ones listed in this book.

You can also learn more from Dr. Tina Hallis on The Deliberate Creative Podcast, episode 40.


Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life by Barbara Fredrickson

Friedman, H. & Riggio, R. (1981). Effect of individual differences in nonverbal expressiveness on transmission of emotion. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 6 (2), pp 96–104.

Broadcasting Happiness: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change by Michelle Gielan

Elaine Hatfield et al. (1993). Emotional Contagion. Current Directions in Psychological Sciences, Volume 2, pp. 96.

Künecke, J. et al. (2014). Facial EMG Responses to Emotional Expressions Are Related to Emotion Perception Ability. Public Library of Science One, Volume 9.

The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky

Rock, D. (2008) “SCARF: A Brain-Based Model for Collaborating with and Influencing Others.” NeuroLeadership Journal

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Dr. Amy Climer

Dr. Amy Climer is an esteemed thought leader in creativity and innovation with a passion for unlocking the creative potential in individuals and teams. With over 20 years of experience in leading and facilitating teams, she has designed and delivered transformational leadership development programs and taught teams how to foster an innovative culture. Dr. Climer’s unique approach blends her rich background in experiential outdoor education with the dynamic fields of creativity, leadership, and change.

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About Amy Climer

Creative, open, and inspiring, Dr. Amy Climer brings her passion and energy to every group she facilitates. She has over 20 years of experience leading and facilitating teams, designing and delivering leadership development programs, and teaching teams to be more innovative. Amy blends her background in experiential outdoor education with the fields of creativity, leadership and change to lead robust, interactive programs.

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