The Power of Synergy: Good Citizens, Good Teams

TeamworkGood citizens build strong nations; good teams meet high goals.  There’s a magic in working with others; it’s the power of synergy, the 1+1=3 formula, where strength is multiplied by people working together.

If you thrive when you’re working in a group toward a common goal, chances are you rank high for the character strength  called “Citizenship, Teamwork, and Loyalty.”  Chances are, too, that you’re an extrovert—someone who is energized by being with other people.  But even introverts, who need plenty of time alone, often find deep satisfaction in working with others who share their goals, or in making a contribution to a larger cause.

That’s because working with others gets things done.  As Helen Keller once said, ““Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Ideas about what makes a good citizen or a good team fill thousands of books and websites.  But in essence, both boil down to a willingness to give of your time and energy for the benefit of others.  They’re about serving.

You can be a good citizen, for example, in various ways.  University of Ottawa Research Chair Joel Westheimer defines three different types of “good citizens:”

  • the personally responsible citizen (who acts responsibly in his community, e.g. by donating blood);
  •  the participatory citizen (who is an active member of community organizations and/or improvement efforts);
  •  and the justice-oriented citizen (who critically assesses social, political, and economic structures to see beyond surface causes)

Theodore Roosevelt’s definition of a good citizen applies to good team members, too:  “He shall be able and willing to pull his weight.”   In other words, to exercise this strength, you need to claim your responsibility to give back to the larger social whole that supports us all.

The Benefits of Working with Others

The power of synergy expresses itself in a lot of wonderful ways. Whether you’re working with only one other person or with a group, it expands available possibilities by allowing us to:

  • Acquire new viewpoints and strategies;
  • Kindle creativity;
  • Access a broadened range of strengths, talents and skills;
  • Share resources and influence; and
  • Avoid duplication of effort and expenditures;
  • Benefit from support in meeting challenges;
  • Realize the satisfaction of joint achievement.

Building Synergy

In an article on learning from the U.S. Navy’s  SEALS team, which they call “the best of the best in accomplishing their purpose through working as a team,” team building experts Bill and Elaine Brendler list the values that make the SEALS team great.  Include these in your interactions with others and both your citizenship and your teamwork will have more meaning and success:

Purpose – Know your why.  Knowing what you’re trying to achieve and why it matters gives you a clear sense of direction and keeps you motivated when things get confusing or difficult.

Trust – As the Brendlers point out, trust between people who are working together enables them to take more risks and to feel more supported in difficult situations.  Leadership expert Patrick Lencioni counsels that the only way to achieve trust is to overcome our need for invulnerability.  We need to realize that sometimes our feelings may get stepped on, and sometimes we will say things that others will take personally.  “Trust” Lencioni says, “is knowing that when a team member does push you, they’re doing it because they care about the team.”

Respect – Maintaining respect for other people, even when their opinions and beliefs differ from your own, maintains the good will necessary for cooperative effort.

Care – Caring about your fellow citizens or team members contributes mightily to the morale.  It gives people a sense of belonging and allows them to feel their worth as a member of something larger than themselves even when things go wrong.  “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo,” Oprah Winfrey says, “but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”

Communication –People need to feel that they can express their ideas and opinions freely and openly.  Clear and direct communication is an essential part of forwarding and clarifying ideas and strategies.  “Great teams do not hold back with one another,” says Lencioni. “They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.”

High Integrity – For synergy to yield its maximum benefits, authenticity is essential.  Only when you’re expressing your truth are you making a real contribution.  Whether your team is composed of a dozen people or only two, whether you’re citizenship efforts are personal or participatory, your efforts need to honestly come from your heart.

Follow these guidelines and the power of synergy will pay off with maximum energy, and you, personally, will revel in all it allows you to contribute and accomplish.

This article is one in a continuing series on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index  and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

If you found this article of value, please do pass it on.

You may also enjoy:

The Liberating Power of Honesty

Can You Hear Me Now? A Positive Guide to Listening Well


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How to Make More Love

loving coupleA high school friend once said to me, “Everybody writes about love; but nobody has.”   It was one of those comments so profound in its simplicity that it’s stuck with me to this day.

The first part of his comment became almost painfully relevant as I set out to research this article about the positive psychology’s character strength of “Loving and Allowing Oneself to be Loved.”   Seemingly everybody does write about love!

Happily, the most visible writer on love these days happens to be one of positive psychology’s brightest lights, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a specialist on positive emotions.   In fact, her recent book, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, was even highlighted in an article in this year’s Valentines issue of O, the Oprah magazine.

And the acclaim she’s receiving is for good reasons.   Her research gives us some interesting new perspectives on love.

In this brief YouTube clip, Dr. Fredrickson describes what her new book tells us:

The book, by the way, is as engrossing and inspiring as it is scientific, and well worth the read.

What Love is Not

At first glance, Fredrickson’s research can feel a little disconcerting because it dispels some of our common and fondly held notions about love.   It demonstrates, for instance that love is not:

  • Sexual desire
  • A special bond
  • A commitment
  • Exclusive
  • Lasting, or
  • Unconditional

Instead, she says, it’s a “micro-moment of shared positivity” between people.  And that moment can occur between soul mates or between strangers, between two individuals or in a group.

Long-lasting bonds and commitments can evolve from these special, shared micro-moments, and cultivating shared micro-moments of positivity can nourish them.  But they are separate things.

If you’re willing to set aside your pre-existing beliefs about love while you listen to what she has to say, however, you’ll discover that instead of limiting love, her findings make more love accessible to us all.

The Micro-Moments of Love

The micro-moments of shared positivity that Dr. Fredrickson describes are powerful packets of nourishment for our bodies and souls.  Like all positive emotions—gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and joy—love literally broadens our awareness.  Under the influence of positive emotions, we see a wider range of the landscape around us.  We take in more information and see more possibilities.  Our perception expands to include the other; we’re more likely to think in terms of “we” then in terms of “me versus you.”

The beautiful thing about these micro-moments of love is that you can share them with anyone – even a coworker or a stranger in a check-out line – building your store of love on a cellular level, enhancing your health and expanding your experience of the joy of life.

Micro-moments of love happen when we share a positive emotion with someone else.   We connect with and mirror each other.  Our brains and our gestures synchronize and a resonance develops between us.  Add to this a mutual motivation to contribute to each other’s well-being, and voila!  You have love.  And it nourishes your growth and health more powerfully than any other source of positivity.

Two conditions are necessary for these micro-moments to happen.  First, you must feel safe.  And secondly, according to what Fredrickson told science writer Emily Estafan Smith for her article in The Atlantic, you have to physically be in the same space .  “For example,” Smith’s article says, “if you and your significant other are not physically together—if you are reading this at work alone in your office—then you two are not in love. You may feel connected or bonded to your partner—you may long to be in his company—but your body is completely loveless.”

Love is a biological dynamic.  And Fredrickson’s research details its neurochemical workings.

Smile Power and Long-Term Loving

The connection starts with a smile, followed by eye contact.   Eye contact lets your brain mimic the subtle musculature of the other person’s smile and understand its meaning.  Then, as you engage with the other person in a shared positive emotion of some kind, a resonance builds between you.  Your brains and bodies begin to do a mirror dance.  And you find yourself feeling elevated, open, and connected.  In other words, you’re experiencing one of those micro-moments of love.

Smile, make eye contact, share a positive experience, and a moment of love is yours.

If you’re in a long-term, committed relationship, you can use this knowledge to keep the spark between you and your partner alive.  Instead of complacently taking your love for granted, you can intentionally cultivate it – every day.   Make a point of smiling at your partner and of looking her in the eyes as you share moments of positivity—of interest, gratitude, inspiration, amusement or joy.

And what about those times when smiles are hard to come by?  What about the times when life is hard or tragedies strike?   “Love doesn’t require that you ignore or suppress negativity,” Fredrickson says in a special article for CNN.

“It simply requires that some element of kindness, empathy or appreciation be added to the mix.  Compassion is the form love takes when suffering occurs.”   In tough times, let your smile be a sympathetic one, and the shared emotion one of kindness and warmth.

Building Your Capacity for Love

One way to increase your capacity to love and receive love is simply to keep a journal of the loving encounters you experience throughout your day.   Practice smiling, eye contact and positive engagement with other people and make a brief note about what happened and how it felt.

Another wonderful way of building your capacity for more love is to learn to practice loving-kindness meditation.  In fact, one of the key findings of Fredrickson’s research is that our biological capacity for experiencing positivity resonance, once thought a fixed attribute, can be increased by practicing loving-kindness meditation for scarcely more than an hour a week for a few months.

The video below will walk you through the basic practice.  And for an in-depth description of the stages people transit while practicing it, I recommend Sharon Salzberg’s wonderful audiobook, Lovingkindness Meditation


As my high school friend said, although everybody writes about love, nobody ever has.  To feel its beauty and power is an experience that will forever remain beyond words.  But Fredrickson’s work is a worthy foray into its mysteries and holds some practical keys for ushering more love into our lives.

For more clues about how to make more love in your life, see:

And if you found this article of value, please do share it.  It’s the loving thing to do.

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The Positive Power of People-Connection

Friends TalkingQuick.  Name a friend, any friend.  Name a loved one.  Name a family member who drives you nuts.  Name a coworker or fellow student or neighbor whom you like.  Now, one by one, think about how each of them adds color and flavor to your life.

The people in our lives are a source of enrichment.  They nourish our lives and give them spice.

Think again about the people you just named and notice how each of them creates in you a slightly different feeling.  It’s as if each person gives off a signature tone that’s his or hers alone to broadcast.  And we hear that person’s tone, we feel that unique quality inside us, every time we meet or even think of them.  It stays in our hearts and in our minds all of our lives.  It’s how we recognize and identify each other even when we haven’t been in touch for years.

If you had never met one of the people you just named, you would never have experienced that person’s unique tone—even if you met everyone else on earth.   That note would be missing from your heart’s song.

Whether our connections with each other are brief or life long, we’re changed by them.   Most of them change us in a good way, leaving us with feelings of warmth, appreciation, amusement, or comfort.  They teach us about ourselves, and about our world and how to be in the world with more ease and grace.  They enlarge us and make us more whole.

I think that’s why Positive Relationships came to be one of Martin Seligman’s five pillars of a flourishing life–along with positive emotions, engagement, meaning, and achievement.

The Value of Connection

Martin Seligman is one of the founders of positive psychology.  He and Christopher Peterson worked together to launch the scientific inquiry into what makes for well-being.   Seligman tells a story about Peterson being asked once to say, “in two words or less, what positive psychology is all about.”  Peterson’s answer?  “Other people.”

Touching others’  lives, and being touched by them, is indeed what gives our lives their savor.  Human interaction, whether it takes place in the realm of friendship or family, or between coworkers or community members, is what gives our lives meaning.

Not only that, but our positive relationships contribute to our physical health and psychological well-being.   In her book, Introducing Positive Psychology: A Practical Guide, Bridget Grenville-Cleave points out that “as long ago as the 1940’s, psychologist Abraham Maslow put love and belonging at the center of his hierarchy of human needs.”   When we’re deprived of the love and belonging that positive relationships provide, we suffer.  Connection lets us feel whole.

Our relationships let us see parts of ourselves we might not otherwise see.  They point out areas where we need correction and reflect back to us our strengths.

They put us in touch with our humanness, allowing us to see that we all have our faults and shortcomings.  And with these insights, we find ourselves growing in compassion, both toward others and toward ourselves.

Relationships allow us to increase our joy by sharing it.  Beauty is more beautiful when see through more than two eyes.  Victory is made sweeter when it’s shared or applauded by teammates, family and friends.

In fact, Grenville-Cleave quotes a study from the British Medical Journal that says, “people’s happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected.  A friend who lives within a mile and who becomes happy increases the probability that you are also happy by 25%.”   That’s how real the power of positive connection can be!

Happiness shared among co-workers can increase a company’s productivity.

Relationships bring us comfort when we’re sad, in pain, or discouraged.  They challenge us to be the best we can be—for the good of us all.

Raising Your Relationship Bar

Surprisingly, Grenville-Cleave says, despite our need for connection, the average American spends only 30 minutes of an day socializing—up to 60-70 if it’s a weekend.   Compare that, she says, to the hours we spend watching TV.

If you want to raise your level of well-being, you may want to think about how you can turn those numbers around!

  • Invest some time in taking your existing relationships deeper and think about expanding your social circle beyond its current bounds.
  • Linger a few minutes longer in a conversation than usual.  Set an intention to learn something new about everyone you talk with in a week—especially with people you know really well.
  • Take time to sincerely appreciate the way someone does something and mention it.  Ask how she got so good at it and listen to the interesting story that evolves.
  • Learn to listen to people more attentively.  Bring more curiosity into play.
  • Say “I love you” more often—in as many ways as you can.
  • If your social circle isn’t as broad or varied as you would like, do something about it.  Call your local volunteer bureau or hospital or school and see what needs they have.  Join a club.  Join a choir.  Join a band. Type your community’s name in the search box at and find local people who share similar interests.  You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find.  And if you don’t find a group that shares your interests, the site will let you start a meet-up group of your own.

Even in our high-demand society, it’s not as tough as you may think to find more time for those you care about.  And the pay off is well worth the effort.   Look at Building Strong Relationships: Do You Take the Time? and The Price of a Great Relationship? Paying Attention for some ideas.

Don’t just put this article down and forget it.  If you want a rich, full, satisfying life, positive relationships are a significant key.  Take time to think about the part your relationships play in your life and the ways that you can contribute more to them.   Not only will your own life be enriched, but you’ll add to the lives of others, too, and make life on the planet just that much sweeter than it was before.


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This is the 2nd article of five in a series about Martin Seligman’s five pillars of well-being.  In addition to Engagement, the other four pillars are: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Meaning, and Accomplishment.

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How Assertiveness Can Open Your Heart, Move You Forward, and Connect You to Those You Love

“Assertiveness” is one of those words that can make you cower inside. For many of us, it reeks of conflict or confrontation …

Connection“Assertiveness” is one of those words that can make you cower inside.   For many of us, it reeks of conflict, confrontation, or exposure.  It asks us to go naked in the lion’s den.  It signals danger and evokes fear.

And yet, once you discover its door-opening magic, its power to move you with ease and grace toward
greater success and deeper connection, you’ll wonder how you ever managed to be afraid.

Why Assertiveness Feels Scary

Before we can discover its magic, though, we need to get clear about what assertiveness is–and isn’t.

The reason the word scares us is because we assume that the only time when we need to assert ourselves is when we’re at odds with another person’s opinions or behaviors–when we want them to think or do something differently, or when they want us to think or do something that we’re not comfortable thinking or doing.  And that means we are in conflict with them.

In other words, we look at situations where we want a different outcome than someone else wants as win-lose situation.  The only choices we see are to be assertive and stand up for ourselves or to give in.

Ouch!  That’s a painful choice.  If we take a stand, we put ourselves in opposition to the other person.  If we don’t take a stand, we lose a little part of who we are.  It feels a lot more like lose-lose, either path we take.

But there’s a third way, a way where both people get their needs met.  It’s the way where assertiveness is neither offensive nor defensive, but is simply a confident willingness to share our preferences or needs while respecting the other person’s needs as well.

Authentic Assertiveness: From Conflict to Connection

The third way of looking at our differences with others is to see them as a puzzle that we can solve by working together.  The final result may not match the picture I had in my mind or that you had in yours.  But it can be one that we both think is fine, and we’ll love it because we grew closer in putting it together.

The truth is that all of us would rather be in harmony with each other than in conflict.  And authentic assertiveness allows us to create and maintain harmony because it comes from a position of respect.

In fact, on her wonderfully helpful site, Speak Up for Yourself, assertiveness expert Dr. Linda Tillman says that respect is at the very core of assertiveness. “If at any point, you lose respect for yourself or respect for the other person,” she says,” then the communication has become non-assertive or even aggressive.”

Dr. Tillman explains that assertiveness is about connection.  It’s about honestly revealing yourself to the other person and about being empathic as the other person explains his or her wants and needs.

Instead of seeing the other person as an adversary, you see her as someone with needs and wants of her own that deserve consideration and respect.    When she feels seen and heard, she feels much less need to cling to her position as an expression of her identity.  She recognizes that you see her as a whole, complex human being—just like you.   Then the door opens for discovering together what kind of picture you can create with the pieces of your puzzle.

The Payoff of Learning Assertiveness

Positive assertiveness, the kind that seeks connection and solutions with others, is a skill that can be easily learned, and with a little practice, easily mastered.   Dr. Tillman’s site is an excellent place to begin.  You’ll even find a free class on assertiveness there.  Read her blog; sign up for her Facebook page.  She’s a warm, staright-forward expert.  The resource links below provide simple-to-learn instructions as well.  And the benefits of learning it make it well worth the investment of your time.

Assertive people, studies show, have fewer health problems and less depression, anxiety, anger, and social isolation than people who lack the skills.

When you learn to pay attention to your needs and express them with authentic assertiveness, you feel more confident and relaxed.  You get more of your own needs fulfilled because you learn to state them clearly and to ask for cooperation in a sincere and respectful way.

You create a strong, inviting image of yourself both personally and in your profession.   Because learning assertiveness strengthens your listening skills and deepens your empathy, you become more effective in working with others in partnerships and teams.  Other people learn that you can be counted on for your honesty and your willingness to be constructive when a problem needs to be resolved.

But above all, learning to be assertive lets you be more fully present in the world, expressing who you truly are and inviting others to do the same.   And that is a win-win situation all of us can embrace.


If you found this article helpful, please share it by clicking one of the icons below the following resources.

Tillman, Linda, Ph.D., Speak Up for Yourself  — A warm and friendly top-notch guide to confident, assertive, pro-active communication.

How to Be Assertive — A wonderful video series that will make you laugh as you learn.

Road to Well Being — “The ability to effectively communicate our feelings, needs, opinions, and desires provides the bedrock for establishing healthy relationships. “  An excellent resource on the topic.  See the differences between assertiveness, aggressiveness, passiveness, and passive-aggression in an enlightening chart.

Scott, Elizabeth, M.S. Learn Assertive Communication in Five Simple Steps —  A few quick tips with links to additional articles.


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When Gossip Goes Bad

Negative gossip is harmful at its core because it objectifies people, dehumanizing them. Instead of promoting a willingness to reach out with support or assistance to someone, it distances us from each other.

Watercooler Gossip
Gossip at Work

What?” you might be saying.  “Isn’t gossip always bad?”  Our mothers taught us that, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Could Mom have been wrong?

Well, not exactly.  But gossip does have its good side.

And since we humans tend to spend two thirds of our social conversations discussing people who aren’t in the room, the news that gossip can serve positive purposes gets us off the hook about sometimes breaking Mom’s rule.

How Gossip Serves Us

Above all, we gossip because it connects us to each other and reinforces shared values.  It teaches us what others view as good or bad, acceptable or not.   It helps us understand the rules of our society and its prevailing tastes and fashions.

When we’re dissing a celebrity or sports star for some outrageous indiscretion, we’re sharing our disapproval.

We’re underscoring that we believe the behavior is wrong.

Gossip about others’ misfortunes can help us put our own problems in perspective.

At work, gossiping about a bad boss or team leader can unify us and help us see that we’re not being singled out for mistreatment.

Gossip clues us in to who the liars, thieves, cheats and freeloaders are amongst us.  And it discourages abusive behaviors like these in others.

Gossip about the company we work for and its competitors can let us know what’s going on and help us consider new strategies.

Gossip’s Dark Side

But the fact that gossip serves some positive purposes doesn’t diminish its dark side.  Especially when it turns malicious, it can do far more harm than good, destroying reputations, relationships, businesses, careers and lives.

Negative gossip is harmful at its core because it objectifies people, dehumanizing them.  Instead of promoting a willingness to reach out with support or assistance to someone, it distances us from each other.   It’s inherently unkind.

Not only is it unkind, but unless you go directly to the subject of gossip and ask, you have no way of knowing whether the tales spreading around are accurate or even true.

As a child, you probably played the game where the first person in line whispers a message in the second person’s ear, the second person passes it on to the third, and so on.  When the last person in line reports what he heard, it bears little resemblance to the original message.  Tales get “embroidered,” as an old neighbor of mine used to say, with each person who tells it adding his or her own interpretation, exaggeration, or twist.

People who habitually spread negative rumors do as much harm to themselves as to they do to the subjects of their tales.  Instead of ingratiating themselves to others, they tend to push people away.  Others begin to view the tale-bearer as untrustworthy and as a trouble-maker. Would you want to confide in someone who was always talking about the personal business of others, and who was eager to tell about others’ missteps or problems?

If you were an employer, would you feel that your proprietary information was safe if you knew that an employee thrived on telling tales?

Gossip can lead to team discord, and can disrupt employee morale.

In fact, negative gossip can create so many workplace problems, that some companies are holding trainings about its detrimental effects and writing policies designed to discourage it as an employee behavior.

Finding the Balance

The challenge with gossip is to recognize where it’s serving you without allowing it to drag you into its morass of negativity.

If you’re managing a team, a department, or a business, in order to keep unfounded rumors at bay, make it a policy to keep your employees well-informed—especially when you’re going through a significant change or reorganization.  Tell them weekly where you are and what you’re still trying to figure out.  Ask them what rumors are going around and answer them truthfully.  Employees who feel they are being leveled with don’t feel a need to be scouring in every corner for tidbits of news.

If you have someone in your work or social environment who is dragging down your own morale with a trail of constant negative gossip, try one of these techniques:

  •  Start with yourself.  Unless you’re seeking counsel from a trusted friend, don’t talk about others who aren’t present, and don’t pass along negative rumors.
  • Walk away.  If you’re in a group setting when the gossip begins, simply excuse yourself and go somewhere else.
  • Change the subject.  Ask the tale-bearer about an unrelated topic, preferably one that lets him or her keep the spotlight: How did that report go? What are you planning to do for the weekend?  Tell me more about your vacation.
  • Challenge the negative remark, or counter it with a positive one.  “I find that hard to believe.  I’ve always found that Jim’s work is exceptional.  He pays attention to details and gets his projects finished on time.  I think he’s a great employee.”   Or, “I really like Mary.  In fact, she’s a good friend of mine.”
  •  In private, ask the tale-bearer to help you out.  You can use the formula from nonviolent communication:  First, describe the situation objectively and state how it makes you feel.  (Don’t include judgments or evaluations; just say what’s going on and name the emotion it brings out in you.) State the need that is not being met and ask the tale-bearer if she would be willing to help you out by responding in a specific way.   “Mary, when I hear negative news about other people, I feel sad/upset/irritated because I need to feel harmony with my coworkers.  Would you be willing to keep your discussions about other people positive when we’re talking together?”

You may need to try several techniques, and to use them repeatedly before the gossiper gets the message.

If all else fails, you can tell her, “You know, Mary, my mother always told me that if I can’t say something nice about someone, I shouldn’t say anything at all.  I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that.  You might want to think about it, too.”
How have you dealt with gossipers in your environment?  If you have an effective technique, or it you feel you need to know more, leave a comment below.



Anthes, Emily, Earnings and Yearnings: How to Be a Good Gossip

Drapkin, Jennifer,  Gossip’s Dirty Little Secret  

Evans, Bryant, 5 Ways to Stop Gossip

Gelba, Kris, How to Stop an Annoying Co-Worker from Gossiping and Causing Trouble

Post, Peter, To End Gossip: Stop Sharing Juicy Items