Monday, April 08, 2013

Why Communicators Must Be Optimists

I was recently speaking with a chief policy advisor to the president of a small but important country who said the president made a critical point:  optimists and pessimists die the same way but they live their lives very differently.  Optimists get things done, pessimists do very little.  I subscribe to this philosophy, and I believe it is particularly relevant to those of us who are in the communications business.

In fact, the success of our country has always been attributed to its optimistic posture.  In fact, I recall a research by psychologists Harold Zullow and Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, who studied the level of pessimism in the nomination acceptance speeches by every U.S. presidential candidate between 1948 and 1984 and found that, in 9 of the 10 cases, the more optimistic candidate won.  (The one exception was Hubert Humphrey’s defeat by Richard Nixon in 1968.)  

Optimism was marked by seeing problems — whether global or personal— as temporary and correctable; pessimism was marked by taking the blame for the problems or by seeing them as intractable.

It would be interesting to take a survey of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies with respect to their optimism/pessimism and see where they stand vs. CEOs of startups, small businesses and midsize companies.

That said, why do I believe that being an optimist is important for those of us in communications?  Let me first define the word optimism and what it means to classify oneself as an optimist.  I am not talking about being a starry-eyed, mirage-making daydreamer.  I am talking about positive thinkers, those who imagine solutions for themselves or society and work to make sure they happen. "If you will it, it is no dream," said Theodore Herzel, a founder of the state of Israel. 

As communicators, we can influence what our clients say and ultimately do.  In an age when surveys show that engagement and integrity are key attributes by which our clients' customers judge them, we need to take responsibility for the strategy that will result in such best practices.  Our words can influence transparency.  Our words influence behaviors.  Our words influence collaboration.  Our words can inspire achievement and even save lives.  Client leadership with optimism makes all the difference.

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