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Your Engagement At Work Depends on Your Positive Personality Traits

January 25, 2017 by ·

Our Education Director, Dr. Ryan Niemiec, was recently interviewed about the importance of character strengths and how they can help millennials become more engaged in their work. See full interview below.

1) Dr. Niemiec, can you tell us about yourself and how you became interested in strengths and positive psychology?

Positive psychology, at its onset in the late 1990s, was a good theory that made important arguments but did not have much to offer me at the time. I was a clinical psychologist who worked with clients who were suffering across several settings. I took a holistic perspective, helping clients on levels of physical, emotional/mental, social, and spiritual. It was not until the publication of the Character Strengths and Virtues text by Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman that I saw something not only groundbreaking but immediately practical. That was when, in the mid-2000s, I saw a way to expand my holistic approach to helping people. I suddenly saw core internal strengths that were thinking-oriented (curiosity, creativity, judgment), interpersonal (love, social intelligence), community-focused (fairness, teamwork), spiritual (hope, gratitude), gut-oriented (bravery, perseverance), and corrective (humility, forgiveness, self-regulation). Therefore, this system, based in scientific inquiry and findings, was holistic. The myriad of connections between the person and these strengths of character became clear to me.

2) Can you tell us what are character strengths, where do they come from and why do they matter?

The 24 character strengths are ubiquitous across cultures, beliefs, and nations. They are in each human being, to different degrees. This means there is potential for each person to develop any of the 24. These strengths have been examined in hundreds of research studies. They are connected with the various positive outcomes that people pursue in life such as health, happiness, life meaning, work productivity, and better relationships.

3) Do peoples’ strengths change over time or can we consider them as stable personality traits?

The answer is both. Character strengths are part of our personality which is generally quite stable over time. That said, research shows that our personality can change, such as when we experience an important change in our life role (e.g., getting married; having children; joining the military), an atypical life event (e.g., the experience of trauma), or decide to deliberately change one of our traits. From the onset, these character strengths have been viewed as malleable, meaning that they can be developed.

4) You are also an expert in mindfulness meditation. Can you tell us how can mindfulness meditation and character strengths can go together and what are the benefits of such a combination?

I actually avoid the word “expert,” especially in the context of mindfulness. It feels like an oxymoron to be an expert in “being in the present moment” or “paying attention to the breath.” I would say I have a lot of experience in the topic of mindfulness meditation from the levels of teaching it, experiencing it, creating programs on it, talking with thought leaders about it, helping people apply it, writing about it for scholarly purposes, and writing about it in user-friendly ways.

There are two general ways mindfulness and character strengths connect. We can bring our character strengths into our mindfulness practice to make our mindfulness stronger and steadier (what I refer to as “Strong Mindfulness”), and we can bring mindful attention to our character strengths to be more savvy about what our strengths are, understanding them better, and how we express them in different contexts (I refer to this as “Mindful Strengths Use”).

This integration makes the inherently existing interconnection more explicit. We know that mindfulness is the self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance (there you can see two character strengths at the essence of mindfulness). We know that mindfulness practice can lead to greater character strengths (e.g., hope). When we bring the two together more consciously, we infuse more energy into our practice. We expand our capacities and potential outcomes. It’s as if we are bringing more of ourselves into the work.

5) According to Gallup, only 13% of workers are engaged at work. What do you think businesses need to do in order to re-engage their employees?

The research on these character strengths in the workplace is actually one of the clearest findings in positive psychology over the last 10 years. Character strengths are connected with work satisfaction, work meaning, work-as-a-calling, work performance, organizational citizenship, better workplace climate, less counterproductive work behaviors, and more positive work experiences. And, of course, character strengths are at the core of workplace engagement. Some have gone as far to say that when you are engaged in work you are using your character strengths. Many of these studies use the phrase “signature strengths” explaining that the key is to help employees identify, explore, and use their unique “signature” (their best qualities).

Managers can make an effort to do a number of things to actualize character strengths in employees at work. They can spot character strengths in action, create workplace seminars on strengths, build in team approaches centered around character strengths, start team meetings with the spotting of a character strength, prioritize signature strengths appreciation, do employee reviews in which character strengths are central, deploy 360 evaluations that include the spotting of character strengths, to name a few examples.

6) The world is changing at increasingly fast rates. What do you think are the qualities of tomorrow’s business leaders?

Social savvy and behavioral flexibility. This means that leaders will be tuned in to their employees’ unique character strengths and passions and align work tasks to match. They will be flexible in their approach with employees (not a one-size-fits-all approach) in that one employee might need more autonomy while another needs a more directive approach while another needs a supportive approach with team members. Underpinning these qualities are mindfulness and character strengths. Leaders will be simultaneously mindful of micro level (individual) and macro level (organizational) needs, strengths, and direction – and respond with their own top strengths accordingly.

Want to use the VIA Survey in your work with others? 

Thank you Pierre Racine for the thoughtful interview and your interest in VIA character strengths! Original interview posted here: 

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