Bringing intention to work

Lynne McTaggart

I’ve just returned from our summer vacation, and among my books for holiday reading was Ernest Hemingway’s short works.  His tale The Old Man and the Sea tells the story of an impoverished old fisherman named Santiago, who hasn’t caught a fish for many weeks. One morning, he decides to head out further than he has ever been before and, after a Herculean struggle, he hauls in an 18-foot marlin, the largest fish ever caught in those parts, and lashes the carcass to his small skiff. But on the perilous route back, a number of sharks eat away at the fish so that, by the time he reaches the shore, only a skeleton remains. 
However unsuccessful, Santiago’s spirit remains undefeated. In his own mind, he was given the precious opportunity to wrestle with a worthy opponent and has emerged a hero. He has lost his prize catch but, in his own mind, he is spiritually transformed. 

A metaphor for life
I’ve often thought that this powerful image of a lone fisherman transformed by the struggle of the journey itself is a powerful metaphor for the way in which we might consider approach our work. Many of us see ourselves as stuck in a mundane job and consider the work we do a constant struggle with no actual reward except the wherewithal to pay our bills.   
Much of what we believe about our work is conditioned by our views of what we ought to be doing or what we believe the boss requires of us in this role. We carry out these tasks often with resentment, boredom or even anger, or grit our teeth and wait for weekends and our vacation time. We are also conditioned to believe that happiness cannot be found in any job.
This has largely to do with the fact that the yardsticks for measuring success lie beyond the essence of creativity and purpose. Your contribution is usually measured by profits or league tables, or some other artificial measurement that has nothing to do with quality or contribution. 
Another problem is our own passivity in terms of improving the work environment. We cultivate a thousand small hurts, and harbor hidden resentments when our bosses fail to ask us what we think, or when nobody offers to help us. 
Intentional work
We often don’t consider the most important aspect of any job, which is to discover and call upon our spiritual and creative essence. The dullest job can be transformed by attempting to harness your spiritual connection with it and bringing intention to work with you.
Nick Williams, author of The Work We Were Born to Do (Element, 2003), tells the story of one woman who attended a workshop and felt extremely unappreciated. When Williams probed further, she said that her purpose for working was for recognition, which made her feel important. He then asked her if being so needy got her what she wanted, and she agreed that it wasn’t really working.
He then recommended that, for the whole of the following week, she work entirely on making others in the office feel valued and important, and also on attending to their needs—to “try giving rather than getting”. 
Her week was transformational. She discovered that when she constantly looked for ways to help others—by offering suggestions, listening when they needed to unload, even bringing them coffee rather than waiting for others to serve her (and resenting it when they didn’t)—for the first time, she felt genuinely appreciated.
What the woman also learned was the power of intention in changing the entire office atmosphere. 
The ripple effect
As a professor at the Yale School of Management, Sigal Barsade decided to test what she calls ‘the ripple effect’ of emotion by devising an ingenious experiment with undergraduate students at the business school. 
In her experiment, she randomly assigned ninety-four students into small clusters of between two and four, and asked each participant to play the part of managers on a salary committee, negotiating how best to parcel up limited sums as pay bonuses as among their employees. 
Each participant had been assigned the role of department head to act as an advocate, attempting to obtain the largest sum possible for a candidate from his department who had been put forward as particularly deserving. Nevertheless, any payouts were entirely dependent upon each group coming to an agreement within a set amount of time. 
Unbeknownst to the students, Barsade had placed a cuckoo in the nest – a drama student who’d been specially trained to act a different mood with a different energy level in each group. ‘Rick’, who was always assigned to represent the same employee in each group, was also always asked to speak first, in order to see if his mood would set the emotional tone of the meeting.
The results, which Barsade videotaped, were striking.  Even though ‘Rick’ had made identical requests of every group on behalf of his own candidate, each group of participants acted completely in accordance with Rick’s moods.
The collective mood and Rick’s role in creating it also had a significant influence on the tone and outcome of the negotiations.  When Rick exuded pessimism and negativity, a group was less likely to cooperate with each other. When he was calm and happy, a group was more likely to bond and work with each other productively. And the more emotionally similar a team, the better its bonus split.
The effect was not only insidious, but also completely unconscious.  None of the participants had the slightest idea their moods were being artificially manipulated.  When Barsade studied the questionnaires the participants had been asked to fill out about their feelings before and afterward, all attributed their own effectiveness or ineffectiveness in the meeting to other factors —  never to collective mood.
Positive contagion
Barsade made another fascinating discovery she hadn’t counted on:  positive emotion was just as contagious as negative emotion. This particularly surprised Barsade, who’d seen earlier research suggesting that negative emotion was the more infectious mood.
There also seemed to be little difference in group mood, no matter whether Rick was in a high or low energy state, except in one regard. Rick’s moods, when subtly upbeat, were more socially contagious than his subtle, ‘low energy’ bad moods. 
In fact, in his ‘low energy’ positive state, he was the most persuasive of all; the group actually gave him more money than he’d asked for.  Rick’s extraordinary effect on the collective mood of each group extended to all encounters he had with group members on campus in subsequent months. Those with whom he’d acted positively greeted him warmly; those who’d been part of groups in which he’d been pessimistic continued to greet him with hostility or chilly silence.
Barsade concluded that both kinds of emotion – positive and negative – are highly contagious, but that positive emotions stimulate a group to be cooperative and make more positive choices in decision making, while the reverse held true with negative emotion.   Without upbeat collective emotion, people are bad negotiators and make bad decisions.
Emotional viruses
In this one inspired experiment, she’d managed to demonstrate clearly that emotions are virulent viruses, not only transferring from person to person in an endless and unconscious circle, but also profoundly affecting the outcome of business encounters and negotiations. A business could be more successful with a preponderance of good moods, which would infect its entire human resource.
As Barsade subsequently discovered, emotional contagion occurs readily, even with casual encounters. The simple act of sharing with another person in any way acts to create mood equilibrium — or what she calls ‘collective emotional knowledge’ between people.
Barsade’s experiment is profound illustration of the power of intention.  Inevitably, you get the job and office environment that you wish for.

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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31 comments on “Bringing intention to work”

  1. jeez .. so long ... couldn't read it all .. commenting to ask you to consider conciseness

  2. To read the above negative response to such a brilliant and positive posting made me laugh out loud. It lifted me out of the foul mood that had just descended on having received an unexpected bill in the post. Thanks!

  3. I am sending the link to this post to everyone in my company now! It's so wonderful to be reminded of the power and contagion of a positive attitude. Lynn, your books are some of the most profound, wonder-inspiring books I've ever read. Well done, and thank you! Please keep forging ahead for all of us.

  4. My working life was spent in industry, much of it as a shift mechanic and I loved every minute of it. When I came to the US in 2001, the jobs that were around were below my skill level and poorly paid. I started as a temp for a small family owned company, and it was then that I really started to appreciate the value of human relationships at work. It was also a time when I got to know ordinary americans a little better, and to appreciate the many qualities of this diverse group. Hard work is a byword here, but I have found the people to be extremely social and supportive of each other, very warm and they have a wonderful sense of humour. I would not have missed that experience for anything!

  5. Great post Lynne as usual bringing the important to the forefront. When searching for the truth one will always find it, I became aware of this blog existence during my search for intentions.
    Today's post explain some work situations I found myself in and wondering what was the reason for the work place to be in shamble a certain time and not at others and realized reading this article the reason for it.
    Thank you for turning the light on.

  6. Great article, I'm also passing it along. The first poster made me laugh too. Didn't have enough time to read it but had enough time to complain about it. That is rich. Here's how I deal with posts that I don't want to read for whatever reason: I get on with my day! Ironically I don't usually read all the way to the end of anyone's post, but this one I did! But now I've gone on too long. 😉

  7. Very interesting! and I guess not terribly surprising, especially when you look at the mood of politics in this country right now. I agree with Bernard, this is very important information. Thank you.

  8. OH thank you so much for this Lynne! I posted the link to this on facebook and I hope my husband reads it. He hates his job and I hope that he either finds a way to love it or finds another one that he will be happy with and successful. I want to see him happy! Thank you for all you do!

  9. It is sooooo easy to tell someone to love a job that DRAINS them of energy ...go on keep on keeping on...unless you have WALKED in someones shoes the words are easy. It is like telling a obese person to simply eat less...easy for a person that has never had a weight problem to spew out the advice. My problem is the oppressive work conditions of the world that do not permit creativity. The Corporate world that thrives on the energy of others via control... mere words to tell someone "oh come now learn to love your shitty job because it puts bread on your table...people are looking for INSPIRATION!!! I know a well known author/teacher that finds it easy to talk along these same lines. Sitting in a cave ( now a days our office ) away from the front line crap of the everyday working person and giving out advice while they themselves have never had to endure for a single moment yet loving all the praise for all the wisdom in their advice is hypocritical in my eyes. Because I have witnessed these same teachers unable to endure standing in a long line. I see too many unhappy people living unfulfilled lives wanting to have the opportunity to travel, go on vacation, etc. Does anyone here really believe that this "advice" would help say a factory worker that sits day after day doing the same monotonous job day after day after day? While they go home exhausted only to repeat the whole process over again? They do not have the energy to write their book, paint that picture, sculpt, etc. Meanwhile the executive that sat delegating orders did not deplete his/her energy and therfere does have the energy for these things. Same goes here, to write out advice is easy as pie, now live a day or two of the people I just mentioned and test the waters. does this advice "love happy...blah blah blah...truly help them? As you can tell I am rather pissed over this blog. Unless someone has endured or known someone that has endured a job that is repetitive their words are just that words. Now tell me about how you personally triumphed OUT of the hole to live the life of creativity doing what you love and serving the whole versus the Corporate slave modality and I will listen. But right now I am annoyed...I see to many parants go home exhausted unable to set the ideal example to their children and the vicious cycle is repeated generation after generation. What needs to cease is the work force slave modality. By the day watch " Fastfood Nation" and tell me how this "advice" would help people working under those conditions!

  10. Loved the article… I am all for corporations choosing to be upbeat and positive with their employees in order to make the bottom line higher. But… so many companies in America use fear, as in threats to their employees if they do not keep up the bottom line they will be let go, to keep their bottom line going up… and the sad thing about that is it works just as well as being positive.
    The choice whether or not Americans want to work for people who induce fear to get the job done or work in a peaceful environment will always be left up to the whole of society. More people have to voice their opinions about working for a peaceful employer and not for an employer who promotes fear. You have to have your “proof” why it is better for the company to work in a peaceful environment instead of one full of fear induced bottom lines before you are going to get corporations to listen.
    Promoting a peaceful work environment has to be done through the media, communities, schools, and government simultaneously in order for it to catch on as the new “trend” that Americans want to experience. Once you can get big name corporations to start promoting a peaceful work environment, other corporations will want to do the same. Soon there will be a tipping point that “allows” being a peaceful employer as the right thing to do.
    Can anyone remember back in the 70’s when fast food was becoming popular and how concern some people where about creating a nation of obese people because of it, and many people thought that idea was insane? It has taken 40 years in order to create a tipping point where enough people have said enough of not promoting a healthy lifestyle to Americans and enough of allowing fast food and sit down restaurants and public schools to feed Americans foods that are killing them off at a young age.
    Americans and Europeans are lucky that today there is a reality show hosted by Jamie Oliver that is bringing to the forefront exactly what these restaurants and schools are feeding people that are ruining their health and how to combat the problem by choosing healthy foods and exercise.
    How are you going to promote working in a peaceful environment as better than working in a fear induced environment?

  11. Thank you! This article couldn't have come at a better time, and reminded me of the attitude adjustment that I occasionally need!

  12. Thank you! This article couldn’t have come at a better time, and reminded me of the attitude adjustment that I occasionally need!

  13. Lynn - a wonderful post! The reason we named our communication consulting company and our blog Intentional was because we believe that our intention shapes and drives every thought, feeling and action.
    It is so understandable and easy to attribute every thing that we feel and experience to external events. After nearly 20 years of supporting others in the workplace, we are very concerned that life for most working people is getting harder and harder - at every level.
    Most organizations and businesses are still trapped in the "legacy" of the fear-based model - and their cultures reflect it.
    While not suggesting that any employee allow themselves to be treated cruelly or unfairly, more than ever people need to assert their own power in the workplace. In our opinion, this begins with understanding and acting on our internal power.
    The Barsade study shows that our emotional intentions have POWER. They have power externally to influence the collective mood - and power internally to direct our feelings and shape our experience.
    Thx for this rich post!

  14. Couldn't agree more. Emotions are contagious. My intention is to infect the world with positive energy.

  15. Lynn - Thanks so much for the info. I particularly appreciated the heads up on the subtle good mood. My boss is also my husband - he's about to hear this entire post read aloud. The power we wield with the simple smile is astounding. Thanks.

  16. Lynne~ Thank you for the great blog, there are many facets to what you were talking about and the biggest one that I see is that (and this goes out to Beth especially) we can choose to be the victor or the victim of our lives. And what these posts do is help people who are stuck get unstuck. All it takes sometime is one word or one sentence to spark the right flame in someone that can help them get out of a situation that is mundane or unhealthy or unsatisfying. Most of us have the opportunities to do this every day of our lives, we have choices...choose positive creative loving lives or negative joyless unhappy lives...and as Lynne pointed out in the study, you will be treated accordingly.

  17. And if changing the way you act seems difficult, just start with a smile.
    I found this poem by Steve Goodier
    Smiling is infectious, you catch it like the flu,
    When someone smiled at me today, I started smiling too.
    I passed around the corner and someone saw my grin,
    When he smiled I realized I’d passed it on to him.
    I thought about that smile, then I knew its worth,
    A single smile, just like mine, could travel ‘round the earth.
    So, if you feel a smile begin, don’t leave it undetected;
    Let’s start an epidemic quick, and get the world infected!

  18. Love the poem Jan - thanks for it - a smile is amazingly infectious!! "Turn that frown upside down" ~~~~~: ))

  19. Not only a job is effected but every relationship you have can be better with a possitive intention. I am married to a very neg. person and every day need to remined myself that if I stay possitive he will stay possitive. On the days that I don't have the energy to deal with the negitiveness and stay possitive we have a very bad day. The nice thing about being possitive is that it gives energy instead of taking it.

  20. Really enjoyed this post Lynne.
    I think that we should all suffer from reverse paranoia..people are plotting wonderful things for us.

  21. Lynne,
    Learning to use intentional positivity has been a very valuable lesson for me recently.
    I can be a very negative person, and have been so for most of my life…maybe cynical is a better description, but it aligns with my previous attitude.
    After years of personal development and writing my book, I’ve come to realize how unfair it is to those around me, especially my romantic partners - as Nancy mentioned…it was emotionally draining and soul destroying for those in my life.
    I’ve recently quit my job after 5 years due to my unhappiness with that situation, and I knew I was having a negative effect on my staff due to this frustration.
    I am now starting up my own company, and although this is a scary situation to contemplate and undertake, I feel empowered like never before!
    If you can’t find anything to be happy about in your job, then quit!
    Your emotional health, and the emotional health of those around you, requires you to be in a positive state of personal growth and sustenance.
    Write On!

  22. keep it simple. without clutter. get your hands in the soil, even as a pot planter. And remember, other people are hell. The human condition is to gossip, to isolate an individual or group so that
    others can jell - group dynamics. The majority of
    people need to have recognition to be within the approval zone of others and brown nosing is born.
    Dedious, but just keep carm and keep it shut!

  23. It is very interesting to read the blog and the study at Yale. I work for a corporation, with all the good and bad that comes with it. I manage a convenience store in the Tampa FL area, and I am certainly in the midst of a lot of people, customers and employees, who are not on the highest level of conciousness. Over the last 2 years, during a recession, high unemployment and lots of negativity, the sales in our store have increased double digits over the year befor. All the other stores in our company are running flat or negative numbers. The only reason I can find is my intention to have fund, be happy and succeed. Work in a convenience store is not always a pleasure (if you don't believe me - go and work there for a while) But we are making our own environment. I love to have fund at work, and I want my employees to have fun too, and that atmosphere spills over to the customers. The mood is infectuous, fun breeds fun, and success becomes selfperpetuating. It is as if the powers of the universe are attracted by such an environment, and rush there to assist. It really is fun. All I do is work on myself, stay positive and be peaceful inside.If more people and more corporations would figure this out and teach it, many a workplace would be so much better, and many a company would be so much more successful.

  24. This very much reminds me of a book I read a few months ago called "The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything."
    He never actually uses the word intentional when talking about work, but if one were to summarize, he is very much alluding to the fact that one needs to be intentional in choosing the work they do. 🙂
    With Love and Gratitude,
    The Intentional sage

  25. Focussing on the workplace, one of the clues to
    "success" is the Peter Principle (look up the term
    on a search engine if unfamiliar with it).
    Having regard to it made my working life so
    much easier - I could enjoy it! Others marvelled
    at why I did not seek out opportunities for
    remuneration greater than that which I was
    getting - but at some level they "got" what
    was motivating me. When I became self
    employed, I was offered greater fees by some
    of the clients and now that I am retired I have
    a home without a mortgage and a reasonable
    balance of financial assets plus a pension on
    which I am well able to survive.
    I was fortunate in that I found out about the
    Peter Principle when I was in my twenties.
    Although the principle was developed on a
    "macro" level to apply to organisations, it
    can be used by individuals - so that both the
    individual and the organisation benefit.
    However, one does need to abdicate from some
    societal norms - although the rewards in terms
    of personal well-being can be substantial.
    Reverting to the theme of intention, it is a
    good intention that the "universe" should
    ensure that one never takes that step too far!
    Be adventurous - but never foolhardy!!
    Alan Rayner
    EX39 2BA

  26. All this is talking about is the Universal Law, consciously or unconsciously practiced, constructively or destructively. Read 'The Science of Mind' by Ernest Holmes, in the New Thought movement in America, beginning of 20th century. This and other writings are where all the New Age Law of Attraction etc. writers get their material. Your world reflects back to you your thinking and beliefs. That is how the universe works - one mind (or The Field) of which we are all a part, is the Creative Force of the universe. I won't go on, read the book.

  27. Lynn,
    I so thoroughly enjoyed your article and have passed it on to friends. The longer the better!!! Pity the one who could not read it all...

  28. Thank you, that was a very eye opening and inspiring article! I am self employed and one of my main clients is a huge corporation, you all know, and probably have bad feelings about. And as you opened with, I do not feel that this is my purpose and passion in life. Yet I have discovered it all comes down to communication, one on one. I have become a go to person in my area, and I really only have people contact when someone wants to personally place an order, or if there is an issue to be dealt with. Now these go between folks are located all over the country, but I always get good reactions when I identify myself. I t might even be from people I’ve never talked to, I am so filled with gratitude that I seem to be in good graces.
    I had made a decision to be friendly and humorous and down to earth (in other words be myself) with every person I speak to and sometimes it’s only one person a day. Corporations are comprised of individuals.
    Now, I know there are people that have really shitty jobs. And Beth, I am with you there, I cannot help but feel compassion for suffering. But on the other hand, I don’t think it helps people who are suffering to feel bad for them. You or me feeling bad about the horrible conditions in meat rendering plants or the atrocities that chickens endure in their short lives, or incarcerated prisoners in China being forced to sell the clothes we by at Walmart etc. is not going to help them. Do you eat meat? Or are you a vegan, thereby not participating in the suffering of any animals, do you buy only clothes and shoes from sources that were produced from fair and humane conditions, ( and if you wear leather, you, old cows 3rd world countries were treated very badly. Do you have down products? I won’t even go into the suffering there.
    I you and I live a life above reproach as far as making choices where no critter, person environment was harmed, well that is the best revenge. I am not totally there yet, but working on it…

  29. Thanks Lynn for the blog. I was having a rough day at office unnecessarily causin myself to be hurt for trivial things. While i was sulking I happened to read ur blog and my mood changed and I happened to get back to my usual chirpy mood. I think my intention brought me to this blog.

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