Come Out at Work: As a Pessimist

We’ve been called Debby Downer, Worrying Walter, and other mildly funny names because of our proclivity to look first at the dark side of things. Now there’s research to support our pessimistic ways, even in the workplace.

The article “Can Positive Thinking be Negative?” in the May/June 2011 edition of Scientific American Mind explores the benefits of pessimism in the context of professional life.

Pessimists tend to fret a great deal about upcoming stressors such as job interviews or major exams, and they overestimate their likelihood of failure. Yet this worrying works for these individuals because it allows them to be better prepared. Work by Wellesley College psychologist Julie Norem and her colleagues shows that depriving defensive pessimists of their preferred coping style–for example, by forcing them to “cheer up”–leads them to perform worse on tasks.

So if it comes naturally, go ahead and connect with the downside of your world. With all the negative headlines in the news, it’s clearly adaptive to be prepared for the worst, including at work.

As long as you continue to hope for the best.

Do you identify as a pessimist? How has this affected your work?

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