Dear Lawyers: Have a Positive and Happy New Year

positive lawyerLast December as I said goodbye to my family in the Caribbean, we decided to rename our family chat messaging group. We cycled through several and finally settled on this one: 2017 Will Be A Great Year. Why? Because no matter what had happened in 2016, we decided to enter 2017 with the positive mindset that 2017 Will Be A Great Year.

It’s that same positive mindset behind the polite yet deeply meaningful phrase we’ll be saying a lot this week: “Happy New Year!” Yes, it’s a rote statement. However when we say it, we deliver the positive and eternal hope that the next year will be a happy one. It’s a lesson that we can all take back to our workplaces in 2018.

The Importance of A Positive Mindset in the Workplace

What is positivity? It is the “frequent experience of positive emotions such as joy, hope, gratitude, interest, serenity or inspiration.” A positive mindset can have a tremendous impact on both a person individually and the workplace. In fact, positive practices lead to better business outcomes. A recent study demonstrated just that. It found that positive practices were significantly associated with financial performance, work climate, turnover, and senior executive evaluations of effectiveness. What were these positive practices? They included practicing respect, integrity, gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, and seeking inspiration and meaningful work.

The study offered a few explanations as to why positive practices led to improved business performance. Positive practices produce positive emotions in individuals which then lead to an elevation in individual performance at their organizations. People who experience positive emotions at work have higher levels of engagement, organizational citizenship and job performance, and are less likely to experience burnout or engage in counterproductive behaviors. Those positive emotions result in improved cognitive functioning, better decision making, and more effective interpersonal relationships. Employees are more helpful to customers, more creative, and more attentive and respectful to each other. Moreover, when employees observe positive practice among other employees, it leads to increased commitment, participation, trust and collaboration. It is, essentially, a win-win situation for everyone.

A Code of Positive Attitudes, Civility and Professionalism

Last month, The Wall Street Journal profiled the Irvine, Calif. office of Bryan Cave. The profile mentioned that Bryan Cave has a 10 point code of civility posted in its office that encouraged behaviors such as “say please and thank you, welcome feedback and acknowledge the contribution of others.” As the Bryan Cave partner profiled in the article admits, it does sound a bit like something for a child. (In fact, my child’s preschool has the same thing.) However, reminding people to engage in these positive behaviors can and does work.

I don’t know how Bryan Cave created this Code of Civility, but it might have been something similar to what new law students at Southern Illinois University School of Law do. Every year, the first year law students at Southern Illinois University develop their own Pledge of Professionalism as part of a half-semester course. Then, in the early fall, the students all recite their newly written Pledge of Professionalism with their entire class. What’s great about this idea is that the Pledge will reflect the different concerns of the new law school class, particularly as those concerns change each year, and recognize that all the students in the class have addressed those concerns together.

Encouraging Positive Attitudes in Your Workplace

If you’re looking for ways for your organization to start 2018 in the right positive mindset, consider proposing that the people in your workplace get together and draft an aspirational code of civility, positivity and professionalism.

For example: “We encourage understanding over blame.” Instead of reprimanding an employee when she makes a mistake at her job, try employing a non-traditional response instead – compassion and curiosity. Try to suspend your frustration and judgment and do some coaching and mentoring instead. The more compassionate your response, the more powerful your results. Why? Because, as the positive attitudes study explains, compassion and curiosity increase employee loyalty, trust, performance and results.

Here’s another one, “We practice gratitude.” Do you tell your co-workers, “thank you” for their hard work? When a team member makes a small or significant contribution, do you acknowledge them and their involvement? I tell my children to practice gratitude every day because it makes them better people. But for us in the workplace, it wouldn’t hurt to let our co-workers know that they’re excelling in their jobs and how grateful we are for their contributions in the workplace.

Thank You from the Commission on Professionalism

And with that, I will practice gratitude. Thank you to all our wonderful readers for giving everyone here at the Commission on Professionalism  a truly exceptional year. Thank you for reading, engaging and participating in our professionalism movement. From all of us at the Commission, we are eternally grateful for you.

Happy New Year, everyone. 2018 Will Be A Great Year.

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