The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves,” (Julius Caesar, Act 1, scene 2, 135–141)

Somewhere between the forces beyond our control and those within our control is latitude for navigating the complex challenges of the world around us. Though, as Cassius so insightfully points out, whether or not we act, and in what way we act, is left to us. Even in situations where we may see constraints on every side, we have a choice as to how we will respond.

Charles Swindoll crystallized this choice when he wrote:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude, to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, that what other people think, say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day. We cannot change the past… we can change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

We know that diverse environments, particularly working with diverse people, are frequently stressful.  Facing such situations with a positive outlook improves our ability to cope, adjust, and find ways to work together. This is why Optimism is one of the dimensions we assess in the Global Competencies Inventory (GCI). Research has found overwhelming support for the value of optimism in working through challenging situations. When Optimism is combined with Nonjudgmentalness, another GCI dimension, they form a powerful combination in working effectively with people who are different from us.

What Happens When You Combine Optimism With Nonjudgementalness

People high in optimism are inclined to maintain a very positive outlook toward life in general, including future outcomes, or events seemingly outside their control. By contrast, people low in optimism nearly always have a difficult time seeing the positive side of things or events and tend to dwell on the negative, especially in terms of possible outcomes and how those outcomes might affect their life. 

Our research found that people high in nonjudgmentalness nearly always wait to have more information to better understand the situation or person before making a judgment; they are also willing to modify that judgment as new information is acquired, tend to assume the best about people, and are more accepting of different behaviors. People predisposed to be judgmental have a clear tendency to make snap judgments about situations or people and are usually reluctant to change those conclusions or seek information that might contradict their original judgment; they also tend to be wary and suspicious of others’ motives and behavior until they get to know them well.

How To Be More Optimistic

If you’re not inclined to be optimistic, here are some things you might try:

  1. Ask a trusted friend whom you think is an optimistic person to let you know when they think you’re being pessimistic. Discuss the difference in how you both view the situation. Try adopting the perspective of your optimistic friend. With your friend’s help, monitor your progress in taking an optimistic perspective. Keep a journal to note your ups and downs. 
  2. Learn to recognize your pessimistic thoughts and statements. When they surface, stop, switch gears, and make a list of positive aspects of the issue at hand. Do this for one month and see if you make any progress in seeing things from a more positive perspective. 

How To Be More NonJudgemental

If nonjudgmentalness is something you would like to develop further, consider these steps:

  1. Seek out people who are different from you (e.g., different ethnicity, culture, generation, religion, political philosophy, etc.). Find out 10 things about them and their generation, culture, and so on, that might reflect differences in your values, beliefs, and/or practices. 
  2. Over the next week, pay attention to some behaviors you don’t like in others. Each time you see one, ask yourself why you don’t like that behavior. Then think of three or four reasons why the other person might be behaving that way. Reflect on your experience and draw some conclusions about your judgments about the behaviors.  Also, reflect on whether your feelings toward the person change once you additional explanations for their behaviors.