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posted: 7/21/2013 7:49 AM

Career Coach: Enthusiasm is contagious

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By Joyce E. A. Russell, Special to The Washington Post

Recently, I had an instructor in an exercise class who was so enthusiastic that it really made me have a fantastic experience. Yet, the next time I went to the class, someone else taught it and it seemed to drag on forever. This same thing happens at work. When you are with enthusiastic people or you are enthusiastic, it can really affect your entire experience. Not only that, but it can also impact your career success and advancement.

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For example, many employers have told me that when they evaluate job applicants, they not only look at their skills and experiences, but they also look for those who demonstrate enthusiasm. As they have said, candidates who demonstrate positive attitudes have an advantage over those who display negative or lackluster attitudes. Employers worry that negative applicants will not get along with others at work, will treat customers poorly and may not put much effort into their work. On the other hand, employees who are seen as enthusiastic are seen as providing good customer service, resolving interpersonal conflict effectively and working more productively with others. According to several sources, the enthusiasm you display on a job interview can make the difference between getting the job or not.

So, how can you show enthusiasm at work?

-- Make sure it comes across as sincere. Sometimes just smiling makes a big difference to people around you. It puts them in a better mood. Your nonverbal cues can reflect a lot about your enthusiasm. Sit up straight, make eye contact and use upbeat tones when communicating to others.

-- Using positive communication in your e-mails and other correspondence with your boss, colleagues and customers is important. After drafting an email, reread it to make sure it has a positive focus.

-- Proactively approach customers and colleagues to offer assistance or seek out tasks and projects. Show initiative -- that you are willing to do what it takes to get the job done.

-- Get feedback from a trusted friend or coach about how you come across. Are you enthusiastic? You say yes, but others say no. You may not be aware of your facial expressions or nonverbals and how much they can indicate that you are either happy and enthusiastic or miserable and skeptical. Yet, while you may not be aware of this, others around you can read it very easily. You may be wondering why they don't find you open or engaged at work. It could be partly because of how you come across. Several executives that I have coached never realized that they were sending negative vibes to others based on their facial expressions. They never really knew how upset or unhappy they looked. Just by being aware of this and working to maintain a positive facial image enables you to change how others perceive you.

-- Take time for hobbies to reduce stress and to keep you pleasant. It's amazing how exercise or having fun can alter your mood. It sounds obvious, but often we put off taking that walk or working on that puzzle or going to a museum. Yet, once we do it, we realize how much fun we have had and we come back to our work with a much better perspective. So treat yourself to some fun time.

-- Have passion and find inspiration for what you are doing. What's the purpose for it? How does it help you or anyone else? Passion is critical to keep you excited about your work and to keep your enthusiasm high, even during stressful times. If you're not passionate for your work, why would anyone around you (e.g., customers, employees you supervise, etc.) be interested in it?

-- Think about what you are grateful for. Some folks keep gratitude journals and write down each day what they are thankful for. When you think about things in this way, and express gratitude for all that you have, it puts things into perspective for you. It makes it easier to be positive each day.

-- Focus on being positive. Look on the bright side of things. See the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. Try to look at the positive aspect of situations you find yourself in. One person I worked with kept a money jar where he had family members add a $1 every time he said something positive and they take away a $1 every time he said something negative or whiny. This was a great way for him to see how common statements he made were seen by others as very sarcastic or negative. This enabled him to think about what he was saying to reframe it or to be more positive. In addition, if you find yourself surrounded by negative people, you may need to spend less time with them. Negative people can suck the energy out of you, making it difficult for you to remain positive.

-- Show patience. Having patience enables you to relax and not feel so stressed. We live in a very impatient world where people expect everything to be done quickly. When you are in long lines or stuck in traffic, having patience enables you to maintain your enthusiasm and positive attitude. On the other hand, losing your cool can kill your enthusiasm.

We all enjoy working around enthusiastic people. They inspire us and motivate us to give more and to be better people. Now, we just need to maintain our enthusiasm and spread it to others. It will make work more rewarding and successful for us. As Dale Carnegie said, "Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success."

Russell is the vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.

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