Habits of Positive Colleagues

With empathy and open-mindedness, staff members uplift people around them

Duke Regional Hospital's Margie Muir recently welcomed colleagues to work with free hot coffee. Photo courtesy of Duke Regional Hospital.
Duke Regional Hospital's Margie Muir recently welcomed colleagues to work with free hot coffee. Photo courtesy of Duke Regional Hospital.

Like many of us, Zac Giffin has tough days at work.

Giffin, assistant director for special programs with Duke Children’s Office of Development, occasionally has potential helpers back out or volunteers come to him with issues he can’t quickly remedy.

But if you encounter Giffin on these days, you likely won’t be able to tell. Since arriving at Duke Children's in 2017, Giffin has earned a reputation as a relentlessly positive presence.

“He always has a smile and says ‘Hi friend,’” said co-worker Bernadette Gillis, a public relations specialist with Duke Health Development and Alumni Affairs. “That goes a long way.”

Most offices have someone whose sunny demeanor and upbeat outlook lifts the people around them. From providing a sympathetic ear to a co-worker in crisis, to remembering birthdays or readily helping with a project, colleagues like these provide crucial pieces to a connected and supportive work environment.

According to Carrie Adair, assistant director of research at Duke’s Patient Safety Center who studies ways health care professionals prevent burnout, people with positive mindsets loom large.

“Negativity and negative emotions can be contagious,” Adair said. “If we can shift our focus to what’s good, it can pull us out of a negative space. Having people around you who can spread optimism is especially valuable.”

Here’s how to add more positivity to your day.

Stan Paskoff helps create an upbeat, cohesive environment at the Sanford School of Public Policy. Photo by Stephen Schramm.Make Time for Happy Moments

For the last decade or so, Stan Paskoff has chaired a committee that manages the social calendar and service projects at the Sanford School of Public Policy. A former stage manager at Raleigh Little Theatre, Paskoff helps plan – and often serves as emcee for – events ranging from the annual holiday parties to and occasional office baby showers to volunteer events such as toy drives and Meals on Wheels fundraisers.

In addition to being ways to mix fun into a workday, Paskoff understands that these events serve a worthwhile function in helping Sanford’s community thrive.

“It’s important that we all get to know each other in a happy, positive context,” Paskoff said.

That’s especially important for Paskoff.

As manager of desktop support services, Paskoff helps Sanford’s roughly 640 graduate students, faculty and staff solve computer problems and operate their devices safely. When dealing with frustrated users, tense moments can occasionally arise.

But the pleasant memories created in workplace social events and service projects ensure that these encounters always feature a degree of camaraderie.

“We can always work together to find a solution,” Paskoff said.

Margie Muir chats with a co-worker at Duke Regional Hospital. Photo by Stephen Schramm.Be Willing to Say Yes

As a strategic service associate and patient experience officer at Duke Regional Hospital, Margie Muir studies the correlation between a healthy work culture and excellent patient care. She’s found that the happier co-workers are, and the more they’re willing to help one another, the better a patient’s experience will be.

“It’s all related,” said Muir, who instills that culture by sharing names of employees who receive praise in patient comment reports and working on fun employee-focused events such as holiday door decorating contests, service excellence celebrations and occasionally providing employees free coffee on their way into the building.

Muir said a big piece of a successful work environment is creating an atmosphere of cooperation that begins with co-workers willing to try something new.

“Just always say ‘Yes’ if you can,” Muir said. “You don’t know what taking on an extra role might lead to.”

It was that agreeable attitude that led Muir to Duke Regional. Roughly 20 years ago, when she was a clinical educator for nurses at Duke University Hospital, she was asked to shift her position to Duke Regional Hospital, which had just merged into Duke Health System.

She reluctantly agreed to the move, telling herself she’d be back to Duke University Hospital soon. But very quickly, she fell in love with her new environment and Duke Regional became home.

“it has been so rewarding to connect to the Durham community by working within a different part of Duke Health System,” Muir said.

Zach Giffin's positive attitude has made him an asset at Duke Children's Office of Development. Photo courtesy of Zac Giffin.Find the Positive

Hang around Zac Giffin long enough and you’ll hear it.

Part verbal tic, part personal motto, Giffin often adds, “It’s going to be great!” to the end of many of his thoughts.

“I say that all the time,” Giffin said. “If we’re in a meeting, or if I’m talking through a situation that might be turning negative, I just say ‘It’s going to be great! It’s going to be fine!’ It just kind of automatically comes out.”

Adair, associate in research at Duke’s Patient Safety Center, said such behavior is called “positive reappraisal” and is a common tactic among people with buoyant mindsets.

“Some people can find at least a little bit of hope in difficult situations,” Adair said. “And to them, it’s not just wishful thinking. They might know that a situation is bad, but they’re still able to be at least a little optimistic. It can make all the difference when it comes to resilience.”

For Giffin, it’s more than just a saying.

“I really do mean it,” Giffin said. “I like to control what I can control, and one thing I can control is my attitude and the way I view things.”

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