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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

Build Immunity to Negativity: A #WISHRM21 Interview with Tina Hallis

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

Admittedly, much of my life I have been negative. It’s taken me years to undo what came natural to me – seeing the bad in things rather than the good! Also admittedly, I have a long way to go, BUT… I feel my progress has been rather remarkable! Learning to “embrace the suck” is tough, but necessary to grow. Amor fati or bust!

So, when I saw the session Build Immunity to Negativity at the upcoming Wisconsin State SHRM Conference, I knew I had to connect with the mind behind the session!

Tina Hallis, Ph.D. is certified in Positive Psychology through the WholeBeing Institute. She is the author of Sharpen Your Positive Edge: Shifting Your Thoughts for More

Positivity & Success, which will be added to my reading list! Tina worked for 20+ years as a scientist in Biotechnology before discovering a new science called Positive Psychology in 2011.

Her background alone fascinates me, so this interview is one I am very excited to share with you all! You can connect with Tina on her LinkedIn page, and I hope you get the opportunity to see her session at Wisconsin State SHRM Conference 2021.

1. Your session and background frequently mention “positive psychology.” Could you please tell the readers what this is and how it is linked to your presentation?

There are many formal definitions out there, but a simple one I like is by Shelly L. Gable (Dept. of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles) and Jonathan Haidt (Dept of Psychology, University of Virginia) “Positive psychology is the study of the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions.”

In a way, it’s applying science to the advice and wisdom passed down through philosophers, spiritual leaders, and maybe even our grandparents. For example, we now have studies demonstrating the benefits of taking time for gratitude, of helping others, of spending time reminiscing about positive memories. It’s taking ideas and concepts that may seem “fluffy” to some people and backing them up with evidence to make them more credible, and, hopefully, reaching more people so they can use this information. The research shows how applying these ideas in our daily life not only make us feel happier, it improves our resilience, motivation, and optimism. Study after study indicate improvements in relationships, sleep, health, leadership, teamwork, marriages, parenting, performance at work, and the list goes on.

In my presentation, I specifically focus on how other people’s negativity can impact us and how we can use the concepts in positive psychology to “build our immunity.”

2. Your session description has an interesting phrase: “changing how you respond” to a negative situation, colleague, boss. What is the background for this phrase and why is this important to your session?

I’ve been speaking on and teaching Positive Psychology since 2013. The most common question I would get after these programs was, “How can I make my partner, boss, child, coworker, more positive? They’re so negative, and they’re making me feel stressed, unhappy, frustrated.” To provide the best answer and support, I decided to not only dig deeper into the research, but also interview a number of experts. The biggest and most common theme that emerged was learning to “change how you respond.” It’s very difficult to change other people. The one person we have the most control over is ourself. We all know this, but it’s not easy to do. So in my program I talk about ways that make it easier to change our response, AND we explore what that change might look like. What are are some internal changes we can make? What are external changes that would make the situation better?

3. Did you have a particular situation or situations you’d like to share that lead you down the path to building your own immunity to negativity?

In addition to my talks and trainings, I wanted to provide more support to help people make lasting change. I decided an online course could be a great tool where people could choose approaches to try in their daily lives and find what works best for them. The course would provide context, support, and ideas for them to choose from. Since the most common concern was how to change other people, I decided that would be an “easy” place to start. Ha!! Little did I know… What I thought was going to be a quick and simple project turned into an exploration that taught me so much and changed me as a person. I believe the 5-step Immunity to Negativity Formula that emerged out of this endeavor has made me a better parent, a better spouse, and a better friend. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I tend to react to others. Now when my husband misunderstands me or my teenage daughter is feeling frustrated, it’s easier to stay calm and choose a response that doesn’t escalate the situation and may even make things better. I’m far from perfect but it’s a process that I keep working on.

4. I’ve seen a lot of articles and pieces lately about “toxic positivity.” How do your methods avoid the pitfalls of a “good vibes only” mentality?

This is such an important question!! My goal is to help people understand that it’s all about balance. Negative emotions serve a purpose. They are a critical part of our survival instinct and are telling us there may be a problem that needs our attention. We don’t want to ignore these messages, but we also don’t want to get stuck in them. For example, if we’re feeling upset about someone’s actions, our frustration may be telling us we need to talk to them or set a boundary regarding our interactions with them, or we may need to check in with our own reaction and change how we respond. But if we ignore these feelings, and pretend everything is fine, we let the problem fester and it will continue to drain more of our energy and happiness. Another common mistake is to offer advice to others instead of offering empathy. My teenage daughter has taught me the importance of validating other people’s feelings. Everybody has a right to their emotions. Sometimes I’ll ask my daughter if she wants advice or just wants me to listen.

5. You are a DiSC expert. I love personality assessments and how they can bring greater awareness into how one conducts work, communicates, and generally lives their life. Do you make any connections between DiSC and positive psychology?

I have a few programs that tie DiSC and positive psychology together. These topics focus on having more positive interactions, whether it’s teamwork, relationships with our coworkers or boss, or our relationships outside of work. I’ve found that when we can understand and appreciate our differences, it improves our abilities to cooperate, communicate, and connect. It becomes easier to not take things personally, to be more patient, and to build trust. I remember the first time I took a DiSC personality assessment in my corporate days. My boss at the time would send me short, concise emails. Sometimes they were only a couple words. I thought he didn’t like me. But after learning that his personality was “Dominance,” I realized it wasn’t about me. He just preferred getting to the point. I adapted by shortening my emails. Learning this really improved our relationship and my perspective.

6. I consider myself an amature philosopher – especially important to me is Stoicism. A lot of what I see in your session reminds me of Stoic techniques for bettering oneself. Do you see philosophy as being important to the work of positive psychology?

Definitely! I see positive psychology as a means of applying scientific principles to the many insights and wisdom from philosophy. The research supports how important these ideals are to living our best life and being our best self. Hopefully, focusing on the science will bring even more attention to the value and impact of these concepts. For example, I never heard about the power of our thoughts and how we can influence our emotions by changing our thinking until I was in my forties. Now there are more programs introducing these ideas into the classroom so kids can learn them at an early age. There are more conferences, articles, blogs, and posts. I’m optimistic that this movement will continue to grow and continue to make the world a better place.

7. Lightning round! Time for some extra fun!

What DiSC style are you? Steadiness – I like harmony and making people feel good

What is your vacation destination of choice? Somewhere in nature where I can hike, kayak, and bike. I’ve enjoyed seeing beautiful places in many states. Hopefully international travel will get easier and I can see even more.

What is your favorite movie? I love the Marvel movies. They tend to combine the right amount of action, adventure, and humor. I also appreciate The Matrix and the idea that what we think is reality is only in our minds.

If you could have “walk-up” music any time you entered a room, what would that song be? Jason Mraz’ I’m Yours. It’s such a happy beat.

Coffee or tea? Herbal tea!! or Kombucha…

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