Just Say It

July 09, 2014

4 Phrases To Cultivate & Protect A Positive Work Environment


Negative work environments are bad. Positive work environments are good.

Thank you very much. I’ll be here all week.

Let me try and be a bit more helpful. Most of us want to be a part of cultivating positive work environments. But experience tells us that this is usually easier said than done. We get into the day-to-day rigors of work life and positivity is often sacrificed at the altar of efficiency. This isn’t to say that efficiency isn’t important. It is. But companies and organizations that make efficiency their primary objective leave themselves susceptible to a sort of devolution. As they worship at the altar of efficiency, the things that made them interesting, worthwhile, and meaningful – creativity, innovation, progressive thinking – lose their place in the hierarchy of values and once that happens, it’s almost impossible to find the way back. And before we know it, we’re working in negative environments, stale and stagnant, slowly decaying as status quo rules the day.

I am by no means an expert in organizational culture or the intricacies of creativity. But I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of working in a number of innovative, forward-thinking environments – environments I would categorize as positive. Each one of these environments, while disconnected and unassociated with the others, shared four particular phrases in common. I’ve come to believe that these four simple phrases are crucial to cultivating and protecting a positive work environment. Each phrase exudes a certain type of spirit that I believe is universal to any environment where interesting, worthwhile, meaningful work is being done.     


What do you think? 

This phrase exudes a spirit of collaboration. Feedback is not seen or heard as criticism, constructive or otherwise. Rather, feedback is simply a back and forth process in the collaborative work of achieving forward progress. Reworking an idea becomes normative. Team members develop trust and rapport. They learn to enjoy and have fun with the process of refining something together in order to unleash its best possible version. Getting many minds and many hands on a project becomes the unquestioned pattern. Genius ideas are often birthed in solitude but almost always come to maturity in the presence of many. 


Let's try it and see what happens 

This phrase exudes a spirit of innovation and adventure. There is a commitment to the relentless elimination of the sort of fear-fueled, status-quo-protecting risk-aversion that many of us know far too well – the kind that often stifles brilliance. Risk is not seen as a necessary evil from time to time. Instead, risk is embraced as a signpost signaling that the potential for greatness lies just ahead. If someone has a passion and a plan, they are freed to run hard and fast after an idea. They are supported as if they will succeed, not only when they succeed. 


What did we learn?

This phrase exudes a spirit of curiosity, humility, and progress. Whether a particular idea was a smashing success or a miserable failure, the opportunity to learn from the experience is always, without question, embraced and exercised. And because each experience is seen as a learning opportunity, the successes are doubly valuable and the failures can be reclaimed for some progressive good. Curiosity becomes the air we breathe in these environments. Everything and anything is seen as a learning opportunity full of almost infinite possibilities. There is freedom to question everything and to learn from anything. Successes are celebrated and failures are released only once they’ve been exhausted of their learning potential.


Well done. Thank you.

This phrase exudes a spirit of gratitude. While the previous phrases have been fairly pragmatic, there is something almost magical about this final phrase. Any environment in which people are generous with their expressions of genuine gratitude toward one another seems to breed a sort of energy that is otherwise unattainable. Emerson once wrote, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” Gratitude as a cultural virtue creates an environment full of life and vitality. People feel valued and significant and begin to create more and more work that is itself valuable and significant. A simple thank you goes further than we might ever have imagined.


Writer, Speaker, Ramen Consumer
@jaykimthinks  ::  jaykimthinks.com