Can your ‘explanatory style’ help you to find your next role? And keep it?

Introducing Shawn Achor…

Shawn Achor is the winner of over a dozen distinguished teaching awards at Harvard University, where he delivered lectures on positive psychology in the most popular class at Harvard. His view on life is one where he believes that success is a result of happiness – as opposed to the more normally accepted view that happiness is a result of success.

In his book The Happiness Advantage he suggests a number of ways in which we can improve our level of happiness – and thereby increase the likelihood of success. And one of his suggestions is to adopt an optimistic ‘explanatory style’…

What is an ‘explanatory style’?

Explanatory style = the way in which we choose to explain the nature of past events.

People with an optimistic explanatory style interpret adversity as being local and temporary, while those with a pessimistic explanatory style see those events as more global and permanent. And those beliefs will th


en affect the actions we take in response…

Individuals with a pessimistic explanatory style are likely to sink into helplessness and blaming others for their circumstances. More optimistic folk are much more likely to see what they can learn from their circumstances and drive themselves on to a higher performance.

The evidence…

According to The Happiness Advantage, MetLife, an American life-insurance company were losing half of their new salesman within a year and only 20% lasted until the fourth year. $75 million a year was being spent on hiring fees before MetLife brought in Martin Seligman, a psychologist well known for his work on learned helplessness.

As a result of that partnership, Metlife began recruiting only those salesman with an optimistic explanatory style and not those who passed the industry test but had a pessimistic explanatory style. The results were astounding: s34576444 - business people team success celebration conceptalesman with the most optimistic explanatory style sold fully 88% more than the most pessimistic ones. Furthermore, the more optimistic were half as likely to quit as were the pessimists.

An optimistic explanatory style has also been found to predict how well people recover after coronary bypass surgery; how well people in sports are likely to perform and the likelihood of success for college students.

So how does this affect your job search?

I have interviewed many people who have been made redundant, and on reflection, the advice offered by Shawn Achor probably seems fairly obvious. On many occasions the person made redundant will blame others and feel the company has made the wrong choice. This does not come across well and is unlikely to encourage the interviewer to progress an individual to the next stage.

On the other hand, those individuals who tell me they would prefer not to have been made redundant but recognise why it has happened, and continue to see their previous employer in a positive light, are far more attractive. Those with a positive attitude look to see what they can learn from their circumstances and will take a creative approach in seeking the next opportunity.

Easier said than done?

Losing a job is one of the highest causes of stress in the modern world, so I think it would be rash to pretend that being positive about it is easy. Equally, blind optimism acted out in an attempt to portray the right attitude is unconvincing and unattractive.

So how can it be done?

In my post next week, I will suggest a few strategies which, with some patience, will help to develop a genuine optimistic explanatory style.


Who am I? A chap living in Nottingham, United Kingdom who perhaps has a much higher level of enthusiasm than ability leading to an interest in many things but mastery of none. A father of three no longer dependent children, or so they tell me, and husband to a one-time nurse who now works with me (or rather I work for). I attempt to take photographs and occasionally fluke half decent shots though thank goodness I no longer have to buy film. I endeavour to practice karate but with advancing years spend more time instructing them participating but actively participate in the more gentle tai chi. Professionally I have spent the last twenty years in recruitment – not always the most highly regarded ‘industry’. For my part I take great pleasure in helping companies to find the right people and a lot of satisfaction out of seeing them thrive and succeed. More recently I have spent a lot of time helping people who have, or fear they may, lose their jobs. For many putting a CV together is so difficult and then finding opportuniteis can be a major challenge. Interviews can be a different problem altogether but with a little help most people can perform a lot better than they otherwise would.

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