People Who Shine From Within Don’t Need the Spotlight

I recently heard a successful performer on a popular TV show preface the advice she planned to give by saying: “I’m just a girl, but…” I almost came out of my chair. Did I hear her correctly? Was this beautiful, accomplished woman trying to diminish herself in front of her peers? OR… 

People who shine from within don't seek the spotlight

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10 Things Top Communicators Do Differently – and you can too

Great communicators aren’t defined by whether they’re extroverts. They don’t have to have the gift of gab and be able to keep a non-stop patter going. But they do have one thing in common – they put effort into improving their interpersonal skills. It is important to them to build and maintain positive, constructive relationships and they do that through a focus on communication.

top 10 things good communicators do differently

The top 10 skills good communicators develop also include:

1. They are aspirational. They understand that what people need most is to be heard, appreciated and encouraged. Everything that comes out of their mouth or shows up in print is designed to make things better rather than tear events or people down. Since readers and listeners respond well to upbeat, optimistic news, they strive to focus on the good things as much as possible.

2. They ask questions. Too often, we believe people are stronger and more competent when they are directive, assertive and commanding in tone. But that can get old. The best communicators know how to strike a balance and ask more than they tell. Questions draw people out. They generate more and better information. And some studies show that leaders only get a small fraction of the information they need to effectively do their jobs.

3. They are sincerely interested in others. How do you take a sincere interest in others? (For some people this does not come naturally.) Back to #2 – you ask questions. You also make a point to remember key components of the person’s life, like what they do for a living, how many kids they have, whether they found a new place to live, etc. And you take the time to have a personal conversation with them now and then. We are usually “oh-so-busy” worrying about getting our own needs met that we often overlook the fact that we’re dealing with another human being. They deserve our attention too.

4. They avoid million dollar words. Nobody likes to feel dumb. So when we say “utilize” versus “use” or “compensate” versus “pay” we may think we’re flexing our language muscle. But we can come across like we’re putting on a show: Pretentious Language-itis. Let’s make communication easier for others. The fewer barriers we build, the smoother the process will go for everyone. 

5. They have a purpose. Good communicators have a goal for each interaction. It may be subtle, but it’s still there. The goal could be to make the other person feel more comfortable, understood or supported. The purpose might be to reach an agreement, make a decision, apologize. The more challenging the interaction, the more important it is to have that objective clearly defined, even if it’s just in your own mind. It’ll keep you on track and help you feel more confident.

6. They are consistent. People never have to wonder about who they are, what they stand for and how they’re going to behave. They don’t flip-flop. Change is not something they are afraid of, but they also realize that people like to know what they can count on. It’s important to them to give others a sense of security, knowing that uncertainty makes it hard to trust and can make communication difficult.

7. They are credible. They do what they say they’re going to do. They don’t lie through omission. People see them as an authority or resource. Credible communicators don’t inflate or overstate. If anything, they will under-promise and then over-deliver.

8. They see the big picture. They try to keep things in perspective. Good communicators don’t get wrapped around the axle over experiences that aren’t relevant to the bigger goal. They ask themselves, “What’s at risk?” and keep their eye on the ball. Roadblocks or speed bumps in life don’t slow them down from achieving what’s most important. 

9. They have a positive attitude. They are the epitome of Dr. Seligman’s learned optimism. They see bad things as temporary. They don’t apply negative events or experiences that impact one segment of their life to every segment. And they work to avoid taking things too personally by letting criticism roll off their back.

10. They listen with an appropriate style. Listening is the most important communication component. Good listeners are aware of the right style or approach that’s called for depending on the situation. The five listening styles are:

  • Appreciative: when someone is telling you a joke or a story.
  • Empathic: when people need understanding as they discuss a problem or concern.
  • Discerning: to gather complete information, like when you return from vacation and are debriefed on events that occurred in your absence.
  • Comprehensive: a big-picture approach where you’re trying to spot a trend or pattern, understand meaning or organize information.
  • Evaluative: to critique information, make a decision, decide if someone is right or wrong. (Source: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Personal Listening Assessment)

These are learned skills. Many of us must work on one or more of the above to improve our interpersonal communication. Don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you if they all don’t come naturally. It comes down to what you decide is most important at home, at work and in our community. Since organizations find that good communication skills lead to better relationships with customers, co-workers and constituents, isn’t it worth putting some effort into developing one or more of these traits? A little bit of focus is all it takes to move the needle and get noticeable results!

Read more about communication at:

How to Tell the Boss You Are Overwhelmed

How to Stop Them from Saying That’s Just the Way I Am

Non-verbal Communication and How Our Truck Almost Fell in the River

20 Things Everyone Should Know for a Happier Career, Business and Life

You will sleep better, live happier, get more dates and become more good-looking if you follow these 20 tips for career, business and life!

20 tips for happier career, business, life

1. Purchase your name as a domain name via or so no one else can take it. You don’t have to publish a blog or website when you purchase a domain name. It will cost you less than $15.00 a year and you never know when you will become famous, decide to write a book, or run for public office. You’ll be glad you secured your name in advance, especially if it’s a popular or common name.

2. Create a Master List of Accomplishments. This is a growing list where you record all the great things you’ve achieved in all the jobs you’ve ever held. Try to quantify your accomplishments if possible. You will find this list very handy when you need a psychological lift, when you are updating your resume or if your manager needs to be reminded of what you did all year long before they write your performance review. Segment the accomplishments into functional categories, like: communication, leadership, operations, crisis management, project management, budgeting, etc.

3. Write Thank You notes. Keep a variety of blank Thank You notes handy at home and at work and use them often. Handwritten notes are rare and people are always impressed when someone takes the time to send one. If you give them to employees, volunteers, donors or co-workers, you may find them posted in their office for all to see. It’s a tangible reminder they have been recognized for doing something worthwhile.

4. Read one book a month. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, reading will improve your knowledge base, your writing and your conversational skills. If your time is limited, as it is for most people, carve out just 15 minutes a day (perhaps before bed or at lunch) to work your way through it. Not sure what to read? Ask friends, co-workers or a manager for recommendations.

5. Make promises you intend to keep. Many of us try to be the good guy and promise to do much more than we are realistically able to deliver. You will raise your credibility in the eyes of others if you are discriminating in the things you agree to do. Delivering on your promises, especially if it’s earlier than expected, will enhance your reputation.

6. Make recommendations without being asked. Obviously, make sure you only do this for those you can endorse without hesitation. If your company doesn’t have a policy against it, post positive comments on LinkedIn under the Recommendations Section. Be specific. You will make someone’s day a whole lot brighter and you could help boost their career.

7. Put as much as possible in your retirement account. If your employer will match your contribution or put X amount into your account as long as you contribute X, take advantage of it! In most cases, these are pre-tax dollars you are investing, which makes them more valuable. The younger you start, the more your investment will grow so you don’t have to play catch-up when you get older. And just because you don’t plan to stay with one employer for a long time is no reason not to take advantage of this benefit while you work there.

8. Form professional relationships with all age groups. Everyone has something to offer and age is not a predictor of someone’s value. We can all learn something new from those who are younger or older than ourselves. Mix it up!

9. Floss your teeth. Experts say it’s one of the best ways to keep from losing teeth and to protect your heart. Establish a time when you can get this done. Can you do it while watching TV?    

10. Wear sunscreen. If you want to look years younger as you age, wear it every day regardless of whether it’s sunny outside or not. This is one of the best things I learned from a former supervisor. (She wondered if this was the only thing I learned from her!)

11. Give yourself credit. You may have a talent or possess knowledge you are keeping to yourself. You might be thinking, “There are so many others who know far more than I or seem to be more accomplished. How can I ever compete?” Right? This way of thinking is a trap. It’ll keep you from giving the gift that only you can offer. You know enough to be able to help others. You can provide some level of service or support. There are always people who will value your level of expertise. Don’t lock it away simply because you have competition. Dare to do it anyway!

12. Clear the debris. When our house burned down in a wildfire, I learned (through no choice of my own) the value of starting fresh. Sometimes too much clutter – on our desks, in our offices, on our schedules – can keep us from thinking clearly and being creative. It’s sometimes easier to start from scratch rather than work around something (or someone) we’re reluctant to part with.

13. Start a “Breadcrumbs Book”. This is different than a journal. It is a chronological list of events and significant changes that happen in your life. It’s meant to just capture the highlights. You will find it helpful when you want an “at a glance” look back at what’s happened to you and what you’ve accomplished.

14. Leave a job only after you’ve found a new one. You are perceived as more valuable and marketable if you are employed – at something. It may be tempting to walk away when things get rough, especially if you have a hefty savings account. But if you don’t have a choice, set up a consulting practice or small business to do in the interim. It shows continuous employment.

15. Maximize LinkedIn. This social media tool is one of the best career development resources and an efficient way to stay connected with others. Update your profile and reach out to those from your past. You don’t have to be in management or a professional position to gain from it. Friends, colleagues and acquaintances will be able to learn more about your background and experience, which may make it easier for them to refer you for opportunities of many types.

16. Create a Contact Card. This is a personal card with all your contact information. People transition from one job to another, so business cards may quickly become outdated. It would be a shame for people to lose track of you, so give the right people something with your personal email, cell phone number, LinkedIn profile address, Twitter handle, etc. on it.

17. Build in “buffer”. Based on the book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson, add some “wiggle room” into your daily schedule, financial plans and emotional commitments. Avoid living on the edge. Build in an extra 10 minutes between appointments, keep a reserve in your checking account, reduce the time spent with people who drain you. Adding “margin” to your life will reduce stress and improve your quality of life.

18. Create a household inventory. You never know when there might be an emergency or disaster where you will have to document everything you owned to get reimbursement from your insurance company. Don’t try to do this all in one day. Focus on one room at a time. Note brand names, quantity and dates you acquired each item. Take pictures of antiques and get them appraised. Make sure you have a rider on your policy for jewelry or other expensive items. Keep this inventory with your “to go” box or “bug out” bag along with a copy of your insurance policy. Take it from me, it is no fun to have to create an inventory from memory. 

19. Make an emergency contact list. Post the names and contact info of people to call should there be an emergency. The top of the list should be 911. Add an ICE (in case of emergency) contact into your cell phone.

20. When you hear an alarm – get out! It’s amazing how many people will stand around and wait for someone to give them permission to leave. More lives are lost when people don’t take emergency sirens seriously.

Share this post with friends and family!


Additional Reading:

3 Ways to Change to a Positive Attitude

3 Steps to Find Purpose in Work and Life

How to be a Change Agent

7 Super Summertime Reads for Business Career and Life

I love books. When I was a kid, I’d go to the library and bring back a stack of ten at a time. Then I’d lay on the couch and read them one by one. My folks worried about my social skills.


That’s why losing all my books in the wildfire was such a blow. But I’m on a mission to replace them. In the process, I’ve discovered some great new reads to add to my list of old favorites.


So, for your summertime reading pleasure, here are seven super books – in my humble opinion and in no particular order. (I get no money for recommending them.)

Art Of Work by Jeff Goins

The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant To Do by Jeff Goins. I’ve been following Jeff Goins’ writing for years and he has been an inspiration. This book, on how to live a life that matters, explores six key concepts to help you think differently about what you do and how you do it. Insightful and honest. About Jeff…



Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I’ve mentioned this one before. What keeps capable, driven people from breaking through to the next level? Success. Focus on a few things leads to success which brings opportunities, but that often leads to the undisciplined pursuit of more. Here’s a video about the book:


First Break All The Rules

First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Curt Coffman and Marcus Buckingham. If you are a supervisor, manager or frontline leader or hope to become one in the near future, this book is a must-have. The case studies reveal what matters most and motivates employees to better performance. I love it because it includes proof from Gallup Organization research. Read more…


Blue Ocean Strategy

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. From Harvard Business Review Press, this book explores why “red ocean” competition among rivals is a zero sum game. Rather, success is achieved by creating “blue oceans” of uncontested market space, differentiation and value innovation. A must read for entrepreneurs, freelancers and marketing teams. Read more…



Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT by Paul L. Marciano. Dr. Marciano’s Respect Model is one of the reasons why I think this is one of the better employee engagement books. Based on the premise that relationships – both personal and professional – only work within the context of a respectful environment. Every supervisor should read this book! More about the RESPECT Model


Influence the Psychology of Persuasion

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini. This book explores how we can have a bigger impact on one another. Based on research scientifically proven to make you more effective in human relations. Important concepts for managers, teachers, parents. Here’s a video describing the science of persuasion and the 6 Laws of Influence.


Take The Stairs

Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success by Rory Vaden. Why short cuts, quick fixes and distractions make it too easy to procrastinate, compromise and accept mediocrity. I found this book hugely motivating. Here’s a humorous video of this author describing why we shouldn’t take the easy way and why discipline is the key to success:

Hope you’re having a super summer! Please share this book list with colleagues and co-workers and on your favorite social media site.

How to Stop Them From Saying That’s Just the Way I Am

Once upon a time there was an organization that held team conference calls. Each week the company owner would guide the group through key issues then ask for feedback. Without fail, one guy would pipe up with a comment that was disrespectful and targeted at the owner.

Interpersonal Communication Skills

It was embarrassing for everyone. But the boss never called him on it, either publicly or afterwards privately.

Not too far down the road was another organization. They were suffering with a woman who rampaged around the office like Godzilla. Everyone, including HR and her frontline manager was afraid of her. Nobody wanted to cross her for fear of her wrath and repercussions.

So, here’s what they both did. They called in a trainer to hold a class on courtesy and communication. (I wonder who that was.) Better to have the outside stranger lower the boom than those who worked closely with these folks.

After all, “That’s just the way he/she is.”

These stressed-out people were hoping the message would deliver a wake-up call to that one person who was driving everyone crazy. They’d sit through the class, nod knowingly and stare pointedly at the offender hoping he or she would “get it”. That way nobody would have to put up with their nonsense ever again and they wouldn’t have to personally put their life on the line.

Poof, the magic fix!

While situations like this tend to keep me in business, it’s not the most effective use of everyone’s time or energy. If you want things to change, co-workers as well as the boss need to take action. Merely modeling good behavior with one another may not be enough for this person to notice how inappropriate and destructive they are. But it’s a good start.

You can also try to:

Be a leader. Everyone is waiting around for the manager, owner, boss to take control of the situation. Don’t be a chicken. Don’t leave it up to someone else. People look up to you ‘cause you’re supposed to be in charge.

Create a workplace of respect. Here’s an acronym I made up to help get people focused on their behaviors.

R – regular reminders of standards and norms

E – effort to create constructive outcomes

S – speak to the person directly

P – personally responsible for our words and actions

E – empathy to understand how we impact one another

C – commitment to right any wrongs

T – timely action, privately when possible

Put them on a performance plan. Yes, you can do this for personal traits that seem hard to quantify. Hold them accountable to behaviors that fall under communication, leadership, internal/external customer service, teamwork. Give them a reasonable period of time to improve. Get them a book. Hire a coach. Be a mentor.

Congratulate them. They won’t go from 0 to 100 overnight, but make an effort to notice the small ways they get better. Do they listen to you? Will they acknowledge they might be impacting others? Are they willing to try and improve? Do they catch themselves “in the act” and adjust more quickly than before? Will they apologize? Can they be responsible for themselves in a self-deprecating way? If so, notice and acknowledge.

Banish the phrase, “That’s just how they are.” If you allow people to run amok and let them off the hook, things won’t improve and they could get worse. Then you might just blow a gasket when the behavior becomes too much to bear.

And finally, peer pressure is a wonderful thing. Culture is the way we do things around here. Create a culture of caring and sometimes these folks self-select themselves right out the door!

Additional Reading:

How to Have That Difficult Discussion

Why Your Biggest Embarrassment Makes You More of a Leader

Nonverbal Communication and How Our Truck Almost Fell in the River

After a trip to Flaming Gorge UT, a friend and I explored an area near Dinosaur in northwestern Colorado. We drove along the Green River to Brown’s Park, also known as Brown’s Hole, a favorite hideout for Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch gang. We came to a narrow, single-lane bridge, which of course we just had to cross.

interpersonal communication skills

As we approached the bridge, we saw a sign at the entrance that said, “Weight Limit 3 Tons”. So I casually asked my friend, “Just out of curiosity, how much does your truck weight?” And he said, “With you and me in it? About 6800 lbs.”

I laughed as he started to cross the bridge and asked, “Do you really think we should be doing this?”

He gripped the steering wheel a little bit tighter and said, “Yeah, we’ll be okay. I’m an optimist.”

So I held my breath as we drove forward. S L O W L Y.

nonverbal communication

Cables on the suspension bridge began to hum and the wooden planks curled up around the tires. I peered out my window at the swirling water below, wondering how cold it was. Then I heard a noise from the other side of the truck. So I looked over at my friend…

…he had lifted up the steering wheel, unbuckled his seat belt and rolled down his window!

Holy cow! We’re goin’ down!


Hmmm, what to believe, words or actions?

Ever get mixed messages from friends, family, customers or co-workers?

When it comes to interpersonal communication, we want people to be congruent in speech and action. The principle, “Walk your talk” is recommended so we can become better leaders or parents. In fact it’s such a common saying that people poke fun at themselves by urging, “Do what I say, NOT what I do”.

Researchers have found we filter out or morph the meaning of 70% of messages we hear. We tend to focus on parts of the message that supports our position, desires and goals. And we may also disregard critical elements of the message that seem minor but contain the essence of the person’s true intent.

Because of that bias, it’s easy to miscommunicate. We can’t peer into someone’s head to see what they really mean. So if we care, we often try to compile clues from what they say and do.

It helps if we have some history working with the other person – some kind of relationship. The more trust we’ve built, the easier it is to decipher someone’s motivation. We cut them more slack. But even among those who have a long track record with one another, misunderstandings can still occur.


So, to reduce the risk of getting crossways with people too often:

  • Tell them your intent and motivation: My intent is to maintain our friendship
  • Identify the outcome you seek: I want to get this project done on time
  • Clarify the position you hold: I’m not crazy about this idea
  • Point out roadblocks that could derail understanding: I tend to be easily distracted
  • Ask them to repeat your statement back: What did you just hear me say?
  • Define what reality/certainty means to you: I’m certain we can reach 80% of our revenue goal
  • Define what hope/possibility means to you: I think it’s possible to exceed our goal by 20%
  • Consider your personal listening style: Appreciative, Empathic, Discerning, Comprehensive or Evaluative

Next, to improve communication within your team, board, family or with customers, ask:

  1. What behaviors and messages do I tend to misunderstand from others?
  2. What do I say or do that others misinterpret?

Exploring those triggers will help you build bridges rather than undermine relationships. 

Are you wondering if we made it across the river? Thankfully, WE did.

But this guy sure didn’t!

Interpersonal communication problems

Brown’s Park Tractor Disaster

How to Maintain Integrity and Deliver Negative News

Ever received a piece of negative news? Were you blissfully tripping through life thinking everything was rosy when out of the blue you learned something that impacted you in a big, big way? You never saw it coming. Now your world is upside down and suddenly, there is a new reality to cope with.

How to have a difficult discussion

It takes a while to get your bearings again, doesn’t it? Would things have been easier to manage if you’d had a heads-up?

Of course. 

Negative news is never easy to hear. While discomfort and disappointment are part of life, the true test of character is how we handle ourselves as both the giver and receiver. 

It doesn’t matter whether your situation occurs at work or in relationships, people don’t like surprises. They deserve honesty and transparency, so they can…

  • adapt their mindset
  • maintain a sense of self-respect
  • change their tone or language
  • make a behavioral course correction
  • become more self-aware
  • pursue other opportunities
  • manage their emotions
  • focus energy
  • take control of their circumstances

So give people credit for being grownup enough to handle it. No one is served by being elusive, vague or dishonest by omission. Many justify delaying the inevitable because they’re uncomfortable, but the longer you wait, the more this issue will weigh on you. It’s  like not knowing what you have in your checking account. You’re afraid to look, but know you can’t put it off forever. And you will feel so much better once the deed is done.

The recipient may not like what you have to say, but they’ll be more likely to see you as a person with principle and integrity for having the cojones to speak up. You’ll prove you walk your talk.


There is a popular feedback approach called the Sandwich Communication Method where you start the conversation with something positive, then lead into the constructive feedback and close with another positive comment.

Let’s not fool ourselves. People know that when you start a conversation by saying, “Bob, I really like the effort you put into the XYZ project, BUT…” there will be something negative coming next. Everyone I’ve ever asked tells me the same thing – they know the BUT is coming so they aren’t even listening to what you said just before that. And the positive comments you make at the end seem gratuitous. People question your sincerity.

Some say that giving two pieces of positive feedback will balance out the negative feedback. Yet according to social psychologists, negative feedback “weighs” nine times more than positive. It’s heavier. It has a bigger impact. It makes a bigger withdrawal from Stephen Covey’s emotional bank account. Even though you may have put a lot of emotional credits into their account, one big event could wipe out all the savings you’ve worked so hard to build.

The best way to build trust is to be straight with people. There are a number of ways you can do this.


Yes, I know it’s hard to have the conversation. The hardest part is just knowing how to start. So here are some phrases you can use:

  • I have some concerns…
  • You deserve to know that…
  • I respect you enough to tell you the truth…
  • You’ll respect me more if I’m straight with you…
  • I want to be honest and transparent…
  • I don’t want to undermine our relationship…
  • You’ll trust me more if I…
  • I want to maintain integrity…
  • I’d like to openly discuss…
  • You’ll be able to make better choices if I…
  • We will both be better off if I…
  • I’d like us to create a new approach…
  • I’d like you to have every chance to…


When people are nervous, they tend to blank out and have a hard time remembering what to say. It makes it easier if you put structure into the conversation by framing it with these five components:

Facts – be specific; stay above the “waterline” by not assuming you know what people are thinking or what has motivated them

Feelings – Are you concerned, confused, misunderstood, unclear, frustrated?

Fallout – the most likely outcome if things continue as they are

Feedback – give them the opportunity to share their thoughts/feelings

Focus – on the end goal or objective you’d like to achieve to move forward

Even if you don’t remember to address each one of these components or even get them in order, including two or three steps will help guide the discussion.


It’s not necessary you do all the talking. Asking questions is a great way to get input from the other person so you can have a conversation. And by the way, asking one or more of the questions below doesn’t mean you are waffling or backtracking on your difficult news. These questions are designed, however, to help you coach the person and hopefully help them move from where they are to a much better place. Make sure to start with “how” or “what” so you don’t put them on the defensive. “Why” and “when” questions sound accusatory.

  • how would you like this to end?
  • how could you/we do this differently?
  • what do you think worked?
  • what could you/we have gone better?
  • what can I do now to make things better for you?

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ~Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky


Most people just want to know that things make sense. They will accept negative news much better if you apply the Principle of Legitimacy. Originally created in 1814 at the Congress of Vienna, it provided guidelines for rulers. But it applies to modern day relationships and interpersonal communication too. The three components include:

  1. The rules don’t change
  2. People will be treated fairly
  3. They have a voice in the matter and can be heard

If you keep these principles in mind, you’ll be much more successful when you decide to have the big chat.


Life is tough. Communication is a challenge for most people. Relationships are complex and don’t follow predictable paths governed by checklists or flowcharts. We are complicated creatures. And we possess a boundless capacity for using our emotions and intelligence to achieve much better outcomes. There is everything to be gained and little to lose by doing the right thing for the right reasons.

So often time it happens, we all live our life in chains, and we never even know we have the key. ~The Eagles, “Already Gone”


Why the Open Door Communication Policy is a Bunch of Baloney

How to Kill a Relationship By the Way You Respond

3 Ways to Change to a Positive Attitude

Every day is a new adventure, isn’t it? Did you know we can make a conscious decision each morning as we jump out of bed how we’re going to approach the day? I mistakenly thought that one’s attitude had to be heavily influenced by what happens to us.


I know, I know, we’ve all heard the saying by Charles R. Swindoll that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.

But until a few life-changing events happened, it never occurred to me that I could take charge. We don’t have to succumb to circumstances unless we want to. We don’t have to react in ways others might find understandable just because something bad happened. The willingness of others to cut us slack doesn’t mean we should adopt a position of learned helplessness.

To some degree, it’s true events can have a bearing on our thinking and behaviors. But it’s also true we can train ourselves to have more of an optimistic mindset. This is called “learned optimism”, a term coined by Dr. Martin Seligman in his 1990 book by the same name. He says that a talent for joy can be cultivated. This approach is called positive psychology

So, we’re not stuck with a pessimistic perspective if we really want to act differently. We can choose to think about our reactions to adversity in a different way and see the event as an unlucky situation – just a temporary setback that doesn’t define our lives, our work or relationships. The event is not personal, it’s not permanent (in most cases) and it doesn’t have to ripple throughout the rest of our life – unless we choose to let it.


1. Optimists point to temporary causes for negative events while pessimists point to permanent causes. We can think about the event as something that won’t last. My Uncle used to say, “This too shall pass.” While the event itself may be something permanent, the affect it has on us doesn’t have to be.

2. Optimistic people compartmentalize helplessness, but pessimistic people assume that failure in one area of life means failure in life as a whole. We don’t have to allow a negative event to filter into family, relationships, self-image but can build figurative walls around it to keep it contained. In Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, he urges us to create barriers to limit the spread of something toxic.

3. Optimists blame bad events on causes outside of themselves, whereas pessimists blame themselves. I’m fond of saying, “It’s never JUST business, it’s ALWAYS personal.” But in this case, we can’t take things personally if we want to remain optimistic. People who say, ‘I’m such a dummy” or “Why did I do that? I was just being stupid” are furthering a pessimistic, negative self-image. (This is different than being personally accountable for an error we made.)


A few other reasons why being optimistic is a good use of your energy: optimists are higher achievers and have better overall health. In fact, MetLife Insurance hired Dr. Seligman to study the performance of their sales consultants and found that optimists outsold pessimists by 21% in the first year and 57% in the second year. 

You can still be realistic and be an optimist. It doesn’t mean you are naive or wearing rose colored glasses to your detriment or that of others. But, you can see yourself and the negative events that happen to you as temporary. You can allow good events to brighten every area of your life rather than just the area in which the event occurred. And you can blame bad events on causes outside of yourself, which has the added benefit of increasing self-confidence.

So as you struggle to get out of bed in the morning, choose the position you’ll take and attitude you’ll embrace in the day ahead. Make a conscious decision to live as an optimist and watch your life improve in ways you couldn’t expect. This is one attitude adjustment you’ll never regret!

Q: Do you see yourself as an optimist? If so, has it served you well? Send me an email if you’d like to share your opinion.