Recently in a staff meeting, my manager was running through the usual updates in our department. There were about ten in the room all chattering about the enormous changes happening in our industry, the potential government shutdown and the cruddy broken printer. After 15 minutes of this, one of my bright-eyed colleagues changed the subject and praised a new system our technical coordinator put in place. This lightly changed the tone of the room. Wanting to continue this positive tone, I quickly spouted off highly positive feedback received on an inaugural team project I worked on. Someone else caught on and cheerfully pointed out individual kudos for everyone. Suddenly everyone was smiling and giggling at their accomplishments forgetting about the ratty old printer.

It’s amazing how the thermometer vs thermostat technique works. The metaphor has been around for a long time and used in all sorts of situations, especially in the workplace. Using it at work is fun since it’s one way you can change your environment.

Apple’s trusty widget dictionary says a thermometer is an instrument for measuring and indicating temperature. A thermostat is a device that automatically regulates temperature, or that activates a device when the temperature reaches a certain point.

The thermometer in our meeting was all of us. Some didn’t want to be there, others were worried about their deadlines and the temperature stayed a chilly 41 degrees. I was exhausted and just listened to the normal corporate speak. At that moment, I wasn’t concerned with adding warmth to the conversation. I was just displaying the temperature, nothing more. Thermometers don’t change anything, they just conform to the environment surrounding it.

It wasn’t until my colleague popped in with a compliment on the new system that I woke up out of my zombified state and agreed. She chose to be a thermostat and change the temperature of the room. I was starting to feel the place warm up a bit. I chose to go for the gusto and throw in more positive fodder. Suddenly, we were up to a balmy 75 degrees. Another colleague caught on, offered serious kudos and voila, it’s 85 degrees and everyone feels warm and fuzzy. The benefits didn’t stop there. As we filed back to our desks, we continued complimenting each other and kept the plastered smiles on our faces. One co-worker took it upon herself to write “You’re blindingly awesome” on a teammate’s message board. She was glowing the rest of the day. How awesome is that?

What happened in this 45 minute meeting? Three people made a choice to change the conversation to a positive tone. It takes action to change a thermostat, just as it takes a conscious effort to change the quality of a meeting at work.

Think of those chilly conversations that go on in meetings at work. Do you see eyes rolling and glazed looks? How about questionable comments? Maybe someone fell asleep in the corner? It doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re tired of constant negativity in your conversations and meetings try offering:

  • a light-hearted comment
  • a compliment to a teammate
  • a positive point on a project
  • a humorous work story
  • a big smile

If you’re there anyway, why not bring rays of light in? You have the power to change the temperature, even if it’s temporarily. When everyone’s smiling, they’ll eventually learn being gloomy isn’t the way to go and learn from your shining example. Go forth and crank up the heat!

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