Applying Positive Psychology to Meetings and Events

Instead of asking the question that psychology has always asked — What goes wrong with people? — harness the power of what goes right.

Robert Biswas-DienerA psychologist by training, Robert Biswas-Diener is a trainer, coach, and author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, The Courage Quotient: How Science Can Make You Braver, and, most recently, The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self — Not Just Your “Good” Self — Drives Success and Fulfillment.

What will you be talking about at Convening Leaders 2016?

I will be speaking about positive psychology. Writ broadly, that’s sort of what makes people function well. Instead of just asking the question that psychology has always asked — What goes wrong with people? — we’re interested in what goes right with people. Often that’s in a work context, so we’re interested in what does good leadership mean? How do people achieve goals? What motivates folks? How do they work together? What’s conflict resolution? How are people hospitable to one another? How do they support one another?

Do leaders tend to focus on what’s wrong instead of what’s right in their organizations?

They do a little bit of both. The most classic business analysis is the SWOT analysis, where you look at strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. I think within that there is some sense of balancing: “We want to pay attention to what goes wrong. We don’t want our ship to sink, but we also want to capitalize on what goes right.” And this is where positive psychology comes in, just to say, “Hey, we might have some insights as a result of research on that ‘what goes right’ side of things.”

I’m wondering if that also could be applied to helping meeting planners create more-positive experiences or environments for attendees.

I think that’s exactly right. If you look, for example, at the science of hospitality, like at what comes out of Cornell’s hotel-management studies, they are interested in things like, should you have one line in the lobby or two lines? The idea is, once you have two lines, people feel like they’re in the wrong line if the other one’s moving faster. If you have one line, you can make them wait and they’re a little bit more okay with that. I think that that kind of stuff is interesting.

Do you have one takeaway that you’d like your audience to go away with?

I want them to come away with a 90-degree view of something that maybe they’ve been living with their entire life, something like happiness, but they’ve just never thought about it in this particular way. It might leave some of them scratching their heads or confused or whimsical or puzzled or curious, but I want them to have that feeling that they want to get up and continue the conversation with the people around them. The fact that we are together as a group experiencing something simultaneously — that’s what a meeting is, and that’s why we’re not doing it all at home in our pajamas through the Internet.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso is executive editor of Convene.