Be the Sun, Not the Salt

4 min read

Have you ever wondered why after an interaction with one person you feel energized and after a similar interaction with another person you feel depleted?

Well, you’re not imagining it. There is an entire field of research that explains our experience.

Positive Energizers: Harnessing the Heliotropic Effect

Professor Kim Cameron from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business has studied this phenomenon for decades. His work showed that exceptional organizations have three times the number of what he calls “positive energizers” on their teams. The effect of these people on others is that they make people feel great.

He describes this phenomenon as the heliotropic effect. The heliotropic effect is the natural pull toward life-sustaining energy, which is why a plant leans toward the sunlight. Well, we’re like that, too. We’re drawn to people who emit positive energy that helps us flourish. Surrounding ourselves with, or being, these kinds of people boosts well-being and productivity.

Dispelling Myths and Embracing Positivity

What makes someone a positive energizer? It’s quite simple.

These people express the virtues, such as authenticity, kindness, generosity, gratitude, forgiveness, and integrity, just to name a few. They’re not just reliable and dependable; they are also the ones at the core of thriving relationships. Think warm smiles, genuine hospitality, and a commitment to follow through. These qualities are put into action by these positive energizers. Here is some more good news backed up by science. Anyone can be a positive energizer. It is not dependent on personality or being an extrovert. All we have to do is express any of the virtuous behaviors we already express. Hold the door. Smile at a stranger. Offer genuine appreciation. Show gratitude.

So, the title of this blog is an aspiration, a goal, and a mindset. Be more like the sun on the leaves of the plant to other people and not the salt on their roots.

Understanding the Impact of Negative Energizers

So, why are we depleted by being around some people?

Negative energizers are people who make us feel slightly lousy. When we feel put down, we usually aren’t imagining it. In the realm of negativity, it’s not hard to spot the downers. These people claim credit, they see the glass as half empty. They are more focused on what won’t work than what could. And their feedback tends to lean heavily on criticism. They are cynical and sometimes downright mean.

Let’s face it, we all have those salty moments. Even positive energizers have days when they’re not exactly radiating positivity. We might be stressed, overwhelmed, or simply not feeling our best. In those moments, it’s about recognizing that we’re feeling that way and being mindful not to project that onto those around us. It’s a tough balance, but one that gets easier with practice.

Becoming a Positive Energizer: Setting the Course

“We are wired to gravitate towards the positive and away from the negative from as young as the age of three.” –Kim Cameron

Using insights from Kim Cameron‘s work, each of us is able to set a clear path toward being a more heliotropic person, working on being the best version of ourselves, more often. This science shows how positive energizers and negative energizers significantly impact individuals and organizations.

Here is the useful bottom line. Every one of us can embrace positivity, gratitude, and kindness, or any of the other virtuous behaviors that the research shows will make a difference. We can equally choose to refrain from saying the snarky comment we might be thinking. We can choose to not send the angry e-mail. We can assume positive intent. The choice exists in each moment for us to be uplifting, like the sun on the leaves of the plant, or we can be depleting like the salt on the roots of that plant. Become a positive energizer, not just for yourself but for everyone around you.

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