Accent the Positive

I recently attended an evening discussion with Martin Seligman, the author and psychology professor regarded as the founder and sage of positive psychology. His new book, Flourish, focuses on achieving a life of “well-being.”

Seligman suggests we move beyond the search for happiness as the path to “lasting fulfillment”—something he advocated in his earlier book, Authentic Happiness. Now he’s more specific. Through extensive research and clinical practice, he has formulated a complement of factors he calls PERMA, standing for:

  • Positive emotion
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment

Taken together, these elements enable an individual to achieve contentment and satisfaction and get the most out of life.

Listening to Seligman’s discussion, I kept relating his message to coaching conversations regarding workplace challenges. From time management and work/life balance, to team performance, conflict and negotiation, coaching can tap into all of these aspects of well being that impact professional performance.

If a person is stressed, feeling unacknowledged, asked to do more with less, then her PERMA level is going to be affected. A coaching conversation may lead to a discussion of when she felt truly engaged. An assessment of what fostered and nurtured that engagement can help her see how to re-engage.

Likewise with positive emotion, which is a fundamental component of happiness. Coaching can help an individual “see the glass half full,” and identify factors within her control that can provide gratification and enjoyment in the work and its challenges. Since relationships are constantly in play in the workplace, coaching can help people address head-on what might be contributing to communication problems. They can then take action, including some healthy self-assessment, to improve rapport.

No one can give meaning to another’s work life unless the person himself does some of the heavy lifting to change his behavior and improve a challenging situation. Each of us has to find the meaning for ourselves. Coaching can help us identify what’s important, what skills we may want to build to enhance our performance, what changes we would like to make and how. Ultimately, we can achieve a true sense of accomplishment by setting and actively pursuing the goals that coaching helps support.

Coaching may not be the prescription for everyone, but with PERMA as a frame of reference, it can help people find balance and well being in their lives, including work.

I’m sure Dr. Seligman would agree.

How do you see PERMA affecting your own performance? The performance of your people?

If you found this post helpful, check out “About the Book” on this blog, and order yourself a copy of “What could happen if you do nothing?” A manager’s handbook for coaching conversations.

2 Responses to “Accent the Positive”

  1. Jaylen
    June 16, 2011 at 12:31 am #

    Real brain power on display. Thanks for that answer!

    • Anitra
      June 23, 2011 at 11:06 am #

      Never seen a better post! ICOCBW