Accentuate the positive

Managing for Society

Manila Times

June 30, 2009

The song “Accentuate the Positive”, written by Arlen and Mercer in the 40’s and popularized by the likes of Perry Como and Frank Sinatra, goes this way: “You've got to accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. And latch on to the affirmative. Don't mess with Mister In-Between.” My father, Rafael “Pocholo” Teehankee, was an accomplished singer in the Sinatra tradition and often sang this when I was growing up. Although my father recently passed away, the words of this upbeat song still ring in my mind’s ear when I think of him. Although I slip quite often, the song is a constant reminder to work and look for the good in everything

The Arlen and Mercer classic has a lot to teach managers who want to maintain a psychologically healthy workplace. Let’s face it. Although people spend most of their waking time at work, the office is not always the kindest place for the mind and the heart. Rumors and intrigues are common at work Tempers often flare and angry words fly around. It would be bad enough if the negativity stayed in the workplace. But it spills over to the rest of our lives, our homes, our families, our bodies, even our dreams. It’s not a mystery why most people I ask are happier on Friday afternoons than on Monday mornings.

Managers can improve this situation by establishing a more positive and affirming climate at work. After all, gone are the days when the test of a manager’s mettle was his ability to catch people doing things wrong. The opposite strategy of affirming the good that people do, no matter how small, not only motivates more but also helps people work on improving their negatives once the latter are pointed out to them. An atmosphere of commitment and learning is the result.

The bible gives excellent advice on being positive; showing once again that almost nothing new can be said about human affairs. Ephesians 4:29 says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”. This is a tough standard for any manager to meet but a good one to pursue, given the stress levels in workplaces today,

Early in my work as a manager, I was lucky to know someone who personified positiveness in an outstanding way. His name was Br. Cecilio Hojilla of the De La Salle Brothers. Br. Ceci also recently passed away and everyone who eulogized him referred to his tirelessly positive outlook on life and, especially, of people. Br. Ceci was a master of what I like to call “positive chismis”. He would observe the most mundane act of a person and narrate it to others in a way that elevated the act to a sublime accomplishment.

But Br. Ceci did not just see the good in people. He inspired people to push themselves to do even further good. He always pointed out the needs of people and how much others could be of help if they gave it some thought and effort.

Managers who can develop a positive management style will certainly make a lot of people happier on Mondays. I would encourage a little more positive chismis at work. I can almost guarantee good results. And the song goes on: “You've got to spread joy up to the maximum. Bring gloom down to the minimum. Have faith or pandemonium's liable to walk upon the scene.”