positive workplace

Leadership Practices For A More Positive Workplace

By Shane Metcalf

Of all the worries, negative thoughts, and stress you experienced yesterday, how much of that carried over into today?

If you don’t like your answer, don’t worry—this is common. In fact, we all form the same subconscious thought patterns, day after day, training our brains without even realizing it. This can form what we call a “neurological rut,” and creates a negative bias within our default mindset.

When you allow your thinking to be rooted in negativity, it’s harder to learn, grow, and develop, because you become consumed with what’s wrong, constantly battling the threats around you.

Contrary to this, when we’re functioning within a positive brain state, we’re relaxed and feel safe, but also, it begins to overpower our negative default mindset. This flows into all areas of a person’s life such as relationships, level of creativity and innovative thinking, and our overall health. 

In episode 10 of the Best-Self Management Podcast, David and I discuss the benefits of creating a more positive workplace for you and your employees. We also share what we’ve learned from the field of positive psychology and how we’re able to shift our default mindsets from one that is threatened, to one that is positive and fruitful. Positivity can manifest in many ways, including gratitude, appreciation, and of course, relationships


A focus on positivity is one of the easiest ways to help the relationships in your organization thrive. When that happens, not only does the bottom line improve, but the people that make up your organization will be more connected and committed to each other and your company’s mission.

In this episode, we also discuss:

• How building a culture of positivity will help improve the health of the people in your organization
• The benefits of encouraging and supporting positive workplace relationships
• Addressing our default bias towards negativity
• How you can institutionalize the power of gratitude inside your organization
• Using guided meditation to help create a positive brain-state


The following is a transcribed portion of the Best-Self Management Podcast Episode 10, “Leadership Practices for a More Positive Workplace”:

The importance of positivity

David: Today we’re going to be talking about positivity, one of the pillars of Best-Self Management

Shane: We’re going to dig deeper into what we really mean by positivity, and why it’s not just some pollyanna bullcrap or feel-good thing for an organization, but actually one of the most effective ways to create more organizational velocity, sell more product, and in general, have a higher-performing business. 

When we talk about positivity, there are a couple of different things we actually mean by that. The first is building a culture of gratitude and appreciation. Another is the actual ratio of positive emotional interactions that each person is having on a regular basis. We’re talking about the overall mindset and tone of the culture. 

David: Yes, and we’re also talking about some of the things we’ve learned from the field of positive psychology about how our brains tend to default to a negativity bias. We tend to be focused on things that we think may be threats, or looking for dangers. We’re operating out of a state of fear and protection.

Shawn Achor has a great TED Talk that I highly recommend, and he says that when our brains are positive, they perform far better than when negative, neutral, and stressed—but it’s not the default way we tend to be wired. It requires training to experience being in that positive brain space.

The effects of positivity on our physical health

Shane: What’s interesting about this is that the emotional states all have a physiological corollary, and we now know from neuroscience that any emotion also creates a neurobiological cocktail of hormones. For example, whenever you’re experiencing chronic stress, you are releasing this mixture of chemicals that have an effect on the body.

One of the things that I’ve been exploring lately is how our emotional states influence our health. Being in a constant fight-or-flight survival state where you’re on threat detection and anticipating negative interactions with your boss impacts the health of your body.

One of the cool things about building a culture of positivity is that you’ll be lifting up the health of everybody in your organization. You will have healthier employees, and fewer people leaving sick. You yourself will actually experience greater health. I think this has been a theory for a long time, but now we’re getting the hard science showing that heightened positive emotional states improve our immune system

David: So really, what we’re talking about is resilience. We’re talking about people being resilient from a physical health perspective, relationships being more resilient, and our ability as an organization to have the emotional energy to take on the hard problems together and not feel like we’re in conflict with one another as we do it.

Soft skills are primary skills

Shane: Yes, and in many ways, positivity is connected to EQ, which is emotional intelligence. For so long, we thought the only measure of our intelligence was our IQ and our capacity to problem solve mental challenges, and we’re now learning—which I think it’s fairly parred for the course—is that our emotional intelligence and intelligence of the heart, which include things like empathy, compassion, listening, and the ability to switch into and get someone’s experience, are all insanely valuable business qualities. 

Often they’ve been called “soft skills,” but I think we’re reframing them. David, you call them “primary skills,” right?

David: Yes, that’s right. Ultimately, I’m glad that the conversation in recent history has put attention on EQ in the workplace and has a recognized importance, but I think it’s condescending in a way to call some of these relationship skills “soft skills” as though it’s not as important as the hard skills.

It turns out that businesses are just a collection of human beings working together, so you would think that the human relationship skills and our ability to collaborate, communicate and form positive workplace relationships where we’re working at a high order together would be the most important things…

Shane: For every degree of relational mastery that you improve in your company, you are going to be increasing the efficiency of execution significantly, because again, this idea of relational friction increases company drag.

You just cannot move as fast if you spend your leadership meetings talking about “what’s going on with so-and-so,” or “I can’t stand this person,” so, therefore, you’re not going to be telling the truth, you’re going to withhold information, people aren’t going to be committed to the decision that comes out of it, and you’re not going to operate as a unified whole. It can’t help but slow down your ability to innovate and sell. 

Positivity is one of the easiest primers for relational thriving. If you can increase the ratio of positive interactions at your company, then you’re going to increase the effectiveness and ROI of every person that you hire, and every hour that they work.


Instead of facing each day with an open mind ready to continue your learning journey, it’s possible you may find yourself stuck in a neurological rut. Fortunately, creating new neural pathways through practices like gratitude and meditation can open your mind to new experiences and ways of thinking, thus creating a more positive workplace.

What can you do to increase the positivity ratio in your organization? Share your thoughts below!

Shane Metcalf, CCO of 15Five

Shane Metcalf is Chief Culture Officer at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360°reviews. Shane has spent his career studying organizational & human development, which now translates into the high performing 15Five culture.

David Hassell, CEO of 15Five

David Hassell is co-founder and CEO of 15Five. David formerly served as President of the San Francisco chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and was later named “The Most Connected Man You Don’t Know in Silicon Valley” by Forbes Magazine. David has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Inc., Entrepreneur, and Wired. Follow him on Twitter @dhassell.

Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash



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