The first keynote at the Agile 2011 Conference was Barbara Frederickson, a professor at UNC Chapel Hill, who has done a great deal of work on the impact of positive emotions. In her talk Why Care about Positive Emotions, she discussed how positive emotions can change people's physiology and impact their effectiveness at work, in this case knowledge work.
About the Talk:
Barbara summed up the effects of positive emotions into her broaden-and-build theory, which goes something like this:
Broaden: when we experience positive emotions we tend to open up.
- We are more likely to identify global patterns
- We are more likely to see contextual data as well as detail.
- We are able to see more possibilities, be more creative and even do better on exams (something to think about for those of you out there considering chasing some sort of certification).
Build: positive emotions transform us. As we seek to have more positive emotions, we develop better resilience physically and mentally and we "become better versions of ourselves".
Barbara made an observation about the impact of positive emotions on communication that I thought was very interesting, and important to consider for people doing a great deal of work on teams:
Positive Emotions + Face 2 Face Communication + Eye Contact = Mini Mind Meld
In other words, there are a lot of factors that go into ensuring effective communication, something to consider the next time you are trying to decide between emailing someone, or stopping over at their desk to talk with them.
The other interesting thing that Barbara noted is that these effects occur after a tipping point, or what she refers to as a positivity ratio of 3:1, three times as many positive emotions as negative emotions. I think the point of interest here is not so much that you need more positivity than negativity, that point is pretty obvious, rather that there is some room for negative emotions which gives hope to all of us who can't turn into annoyingly bright and sunny Smurfs all the time (oops, did my ratio just slip to 3:2?)
Barbara closed out her talk by providing some insight into how to maintain that ratio, and guess what; it's a little more complex than just "be happy." Instead, she suggests the following actions:
- Be open
- Be appreciative
- Be curious
- Be kind
- Be real
If you want to know more about Barbara's work, check out her book Positivity.
Application to business analysis:
I gleaned a few things of relevance for business analysis practitioners from Barbara's talk:
- Maintain the positivity ratio so that you can improve your ability to identify global patterns and consider context, key skill sets when seeking the right solution
- Maintain the positivity ratio so that you can connect better with stakeholders and get the benefits of that mini mind meld
- Help your stakeholders build that positivity ratio. When you are talking to them about a problem you are trying to help them solve, start off by helping them establish some positive emotions. Ask them about their family, their weekend, or their favorite pass times (hopefully those are things they enjoy talking about). This idea ties in nicely to another talk I went to about Flirting with your customers.
These items aren't a cure all panacea, but they certainly will help you become a more effective and well-rounded business analysis practitioner.