More oil in the system
Part one of four: One thing.
I’ve managed healthy, happy employees as well as toxic and negative ones. I’ve walked into office politics that make the US Congress look like the happiest place on earth. Some work environments qualify as finalists in the best 100 companies to work for and others feel like Mad Max would be right at home. Whether you find yourself in a good place or a bad one, one thing can improve every situation.
Every human grouping benefits by having more oil in the system.
Every engine needs some kind of oil to lubricate its parts. Every internal combustion engine (I have no idea how electric motors work) from my lawnmower to a Lamborghini needs some form of lubrication or oil. I learned this the hard way. When I was sixteen, I was given my mom’s Ford Mustang. While I was over the moon grateful, I knew nothing about maintenance beyond pumping gas. The oil leaked a bit and I drove it dry, terrible knocking and all. I ended up having to replace the engine.
The thing about engines is, they are designed to work efficiently under very hard, hot, pressure-filled situations. Explosive power is harnessed to great effect. Hard, metal gears are designed to turn each other. The difference between an engine working efficiently and effectively for thousands of hours or blowing up is oil in the system.
You see the comparison to our offices, teams, and even homes. All human groups have some level of stress. Something as simple as looking another person in the eyes stresses our systems. That’s why we look away, or down at our coffee. Every place where people work together is purposefully designed to allow, sometimes encourage, stress, power, and even barely harnessed pressure. Human teams are capable of accomplishing amazing goals and reaching incredible outcomes.
When the President of the United States set the goal of having astronauts on the moon and safely return to Earth by the end of the decade, no one would have expected or imagined that would happen without a huge amount of stress, pressure, and energy. Those weren’t engineered out of the process, they were built into it. NASA put huge pressure was put on the team of combustion experts from across the country to solve the problem of combustion instability. It took them three years and eventually resulted in a powerful Saturn V rocket placing a 50-ton spacecraft in a lunar trajectory.
Both the Saturn V and the teams that designed it needed oil in their systems to cool the working parts (or people) so everything could work efficiently and powerfully without exploding. While both the rocket and design team need “oil” in the system, neither uses actual oil. The Saturn V uses a high-pressure liquid coolant. And, what is the oil in any and every human system?
Positivity is the oil in a human system.
According to the Berkeley Wellbeing Institute, Positivity is the practice or tendency to be positive or optimistic in life. When we are positive, we engage in positive thinking, have positive emotions, and engage in positive behaviors like kindness and generosity.
Human groups, teams, offices, and colleagues are never going to be stress-free. They are biological machines designed to accomplish everything from “tidying up the nursery” with Mary Poppins to landing a person on the moon. Every machine needs oil whether it is a spoonful of sugar or a clearly defined set of expectations. The reason why positivity is the one thing, the primary oil, every human system needs is because, despite our best efforts, challenges, pressures, misunderstandings or actual understanding hurtful words and actions, are all going to occur. When any of that inevitably happens, it is the positivity that exists in the system that saves the system from exploding, imploding, overheating, or underperforming. One of the best ways to recognize this is to quickly examine what happens when our system is instead filled with negativity.
When a human system is filled with negativity, even the littlest stress causes problems. Misunderstandings are interpreted as attacks. We assume the best of motives for ourselves and the worst of those we don’t trust or like. Any action, event, or word on their part only enhances our negative assessment. And, the same is true for most others in the system. The occasional effort to rise above the toxicity is branded as too pollyannish or even guilty of being “toxic positivity.”
In the case of my Ford Mustang, I was given plenty of warning signs, like knocking and smoking. The signs of negativity are often just as obvious. Adding positivity to the system isn’t going to be as easy as opening a bottle of 10w40 Pennzoil. But, a human system can be turned around. Human stories are built around the potential for transformation.
Characters from Scrooge to Ted Lasso cheer us up because we know genuine positivity can revolutionize a team or a family.
The one thing every human system needs is oil in the system. Positivity is that oil.
How do we get more oil in the system? It takes two things. That’s part two of this series.
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