Here’s some not very surprising news: turns out when social scientists study what impact a person has on a team, a negative person has a negative impact on the group. This means if you add a negative person to your team, Negative Nellie Olsen is able to pull the team down. Remember Little House on the Prairie? Laura never would have gotten in half the trouble she did, but for Nellie Olsen. Nellie’s negativity managed to ruin all kinds of things for Laura, until Pa put her straight. (How many think Michael Landon was a stupid casting choice for Pa? Where’s the beard? Where’s the twinkling blue eyes? And what’s with the California salon tan and the permed hair? I know, I know, he was the producer, so he got the starring role. But still…)
Anyway, the opposite is also true. The addition of a positive person to the team brings the whole team up. Positive Pollyanna is a winner! A young girl, Pollyanna Whittier, brings an entire town in Vermont to gladness. If you don’t believe me, read the book or see the Disney movie. (Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter, pub. 1913; Disney film, released 1960, starring Hayley Mills. (Don’t you just love Hayley Mills? The Parent Trap; The Flame Trees of Thika. I thought she was in Born Free, but that was someone else. Don’t you just love the internet? No wonder it takes me so long to write these blog posts.)
One small bummer—apparently Negative Nellie has a greater impact on the team than Positive Pollyanna does. I don’t know, though. I think Pollyanna could take Nellie Olsen in a smackdown. Nellie is a wuss!
So who do you want to be? Optimistic yet tough Pollyanna? Or whiny, wussy Nellie Olsen? What impact do you want to have on your organization? On your marriage, family, work situation, wine club, or swim team? All are organizations, all are teams, and all are affected by Pollyannas and Nellies.
The way I see it, is you have three choices:
Choosing to be negative. Who would do that? Who wakes up wanting to bring everyone down? Yet there are people who are vortexes of negative energy. Psychic vampires as a friend of mine calls them. Is this a conscious choice made by these Nellies, or is their attitude taken by accident or years of habit? One can only hope it’s accidental. (See my blog about Attitude Adjustment for more information about choosing your attitude)
A net zero impact. Meaning, a person is neither negative nor positive, or that their positivity and optimism are equally balanced by their negativity and pessimism. They are in “Equilibrium.” (Remember that from High School chemistry? I loved that word—equilibrium. That’s the only thing I loved about chemistry.) Again, I ask you, who picks that? Do we really want to be equally up and equally down, basically a flat line? Not me!
A positive impact. (Hint: Best choice!!) These people leave a positive legacy. Again, this result could often be accidental, but, and here’s the clincher, it doesn’t have to be.
So ask yourself this question: What can I do to make myself a Pollyanna? How can I make my workplace a happier place. Or my family-life happier? Or my life in general?
You know, Pollyanna’s are often viewed pejoratively (now isn’t that a $100 word), meaning that it’s not a complimentary term. “Pollyanna” often refers to someone who’s blithely naïve or unconcerned about just how drastic the particular situation is. But if you look at the original Pollyanna, she’s not this way at all. Pollyanna decided to be someone who had a positive outlook. She played a game called “The Glad Game,” taught to her by her father, where she would try to turn the most depressing situation into something positive. For example, as a gift she received a pair of crutches (a really crappy gift), but turned it around by finding the good side—how glad she was not to have to use them!
Okay, it seems a little corny in today’s hurly-burly, modern, seriously screwed-up world. But guess what? The world when Pollyanna was written was seriously screwed-up also. It was the eve of World War I. People were uncertain and unsettled. Financial crises were common, money was tight, and recession a reality. Sound familiar?
The problems of today are, frankly, the same problems of yesterday, just the gift-wrap is different. That’s why it’s more important than ever to be a Pollyanna. Make it a conscious choice, like Pollyanna did. Be honest about which accidental group you belong to. Don’t be a flatliner. Especially don’t be a Nellie Olsen, and responsible for locking your group, your family, your workplace in the cellar of misery. (That was a cool movie too—Misery, based on the Stephen King novel. Hayley Mills wasn’t in it.)
Decide to be Pollyanna and lift people up. Call yourself a balloon, if you don’t like calling yourself a Pollyanna. (Although it’s going to be kind of weird trying to explain why your name-tag says, “Balloon” on it. Come to think of it, it might be weird answering to “Pollyanna” also, especially if you’re 6’2” and sport a mustache.)
So be a balloon. Choose Pollyanna. Soar with the eagles. Don’t be a Nellie Olsen. Avoid flat-lining. Or think up your own metaphor. You can do it!
Motivational Speaker and Happiness Speaker
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