This article is part of a series highlighting insights in the field of Positive Organizational Scholarship that come from the Center for Positive Organizations (CPO) at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Many of our executive consultants hold dual positions at both Riverbank and CPO.
I’m a very sentimental person, so I keep all the cards and letters people write to me. I also have a folder on my laptop where I’ve collected some of the kind words people have written to me over email or in comments. Some of my favorite notes I’ve saved are from my high school peer counseling retreat, where each person had a decorated box for others to drop notes in. For these notes, we were encouraged to reflect on moments we saw each other shine over the course of the retreat. When I’m facing difficult times, when I doubt myself, I often turn to these notes I’ve saved. I read them over and find comfort in being able to see myself through the eyes of my loved ones and those I’ve worked with.
As people, we’re hardwired to fixate on the negative. As we go through our lives, we accumulate all sorts of feedback — things we’re doing well, areas we could improve on. Negativity has so much more staying power, and over time, we start to focus on the deficits and become blind to our strengths.
Positive practices are those that can help us shift our mindset to recognize and foster everything that is good. One positive practice that can help us develop a more positive view of ourselves is the Reflected Best Self Exercise (RBSE). In this exercise created at the Center for Positive Organizations, participants are encouraged to send out a survey to their friends, family, colleagues, bosses, and direct reports. The process is similar to 360 feedback, but the emphasis here is for the respondents to share stories of when they saw the participant at their best. Once you receive your stories in aggregate, you can notice patterns of when people see you at your best. What strengths do you display? What themes are present?
The RBSE can help you check your concept of yourself against that of everyone in your life. The creators of the RBSE encourage participants to take the patterns they saw to create a story of who they are at their best. Revisiting this conception of yourself, whether you expressed it as a story, a list of strengths, or a collage as some previous participants have done, helps you counter your negativity bias to form a truer, more positive understanding of yourself. After all, this story of your best self is based on data from trusted sources!
I loved being able to participate in the RBSE. It felt a little awkward to specifically ask for praise in a way, but I found myself then motivated to return the favor and share stories of when I saw each person I asked at their best. I was nervous and eager to receive my results at the end of the collection period. As I reviewed my results, I saw confirmations of some strengths that I’m proud of — people repeatedly recognized my thoughtfulness, drive, and kindness. My results surprised me too. I’ve been reflecting lately and wondering whether leadership really is one of my strengths — being a leader is challenging, and sometimes I’m very aware of all I have still to learn. But out of 15 stories, 8 of them directly highlighted leadership as something they notice in me when I am at my best.
Rereading the kind words people have shared with me, whether from the formal RBSE or my collection of notes, helps remind me of who I am at my best. I turn to these stories both when I am struggling and when I am trying to figure out how to capitalize on my strengths — what can I do to allow myself to be my best self more often? As you reflect on who you are at your best, remember to share these stories with those around you too. When we all have a better understanding of our best selves, we can be our best selves more often.
Alicia Haun is a content marketing intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. Alicia is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she also works with the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Alicia is passionate about the field of positive organizational psychology and looks forward to helping work become a place of flourishing.