The problem with persistent positivity


I’m a positive person – probably far too much for lots of colleagues on a Monday morning, but of late I have become increasingly concerned by the ‘persistently positive’ movement. Before you think about skipping this article, let me reassure this isn’t about a me slowly turning into a grumpy old woman, but it is about the impact this constant positivity is having on individuals being able to share the truth. Let me explain…

Over the last few years, the ‘power of positivity’ has become increasingly popular. Books like ‘The Secret’, a best-selling self-help book by Rhonda Byrne which focuses on the belief of the law of attraction and claims that thoughts can change a person’s life directly, have become the ‘go to’ reference guide for people who are trying to change their life. And whilst I agree with the overarching sentiment of the book that even if things seem bleak, there is a lot that you can do to change your circumstances. I also agree with the critics who have claimed that books such as this can promote complacency and a failure to engage with reality. It is this potential to misinterpret the desire for positive communication to promote complacency and a failure to engage in reality that I want to discuss.

In my mind, positive communication is the ability to convey messages, even negative ones, in a positive manner.  It’s the kind of communication where colleagues focus on creating a work environment that fosters good and positive communication. Ultimately, positive communication should result in a happier workforce, but also in a more productive and more engaged one which then translates to better operations and potentially better profit. It is not, however, about only communicating the good or positive messages, always putting a positive spin on something, or seeing anything or anyone who communicates a negative message as being doomed to a miserable life for thinking or communicating negative thoughts.

but just like with the Titanic and the iceberg, going full steam ahead and ignoring all the warning signs, is a sure-fire way of it all ending in disaster

Worse still, would be closing the channel of communication down to anyone who is seen as anything but positive. Just because you may not like what the person is saying or the way they are saying it, it should never be a reason to stop listening because they may just be saying something important. It sounds obvious I know but just like me, you can probably think of several scenarios where you’ve been witness to this – despite the recent initiatives encouraging Whistleblowing. It’s almost as if people aren’t making the connection.

In my opinion, the drive for being persistently positive may be having an un-intentional and undesirable impact. Social media is a great example of this in action. Most news feeds are full of positive posts such as pictures of happy events and with happy captions. Entrepreneurs sharing how successful their latest venture is going. And of late, I’ve notice that some schools looking to harness the power of this free marketing are posting wonderful positive pictures of school activities and pupils’ achievements. But have you ever watched what happens when a parent tries to share a different or negative view? Using schools as an example, if they attempt to post a negative comment about a personal experience with the school, they can quickly find themselves being reminded that social media isn’t the place for this type of comment and that they should be raising it directly with the school, followed by a polite request to remove the post. Refuse and they may find a personal message dropping into their inbox explaining that unless they do as requested, there may be legal consequences. Whilst I would agree that in the example I use, social media is not the wisest platform but, in my experience, when someone posts an angry ‘rant’, it is because they have tried and exhausted all other means of communication and are simply intent having their voice heard.

So that leaves us with the question of why would you not want to hear someone’s negative comments or listen to the colleague who is not persistently positive? Experience has definitely shown me in my consulting work that most disasters are identified when they were just a ‘problem’, but if they are raised by a colleague who is seen as ‘always being negative’ and is therefore viewed as a ‘blocker’ to progress rather than an ‘enabler’, the problem is unlikely to be acknowledged. And the more the colleague tries to highlight the issue, the more negative they are viewed, and sadly they are then frequently side-lined and excluded from the discussions.

I do not dispute the power of positive communication, but it should never be confused with being persistently positive. If we prevent people from sharing their negative views, then eventually we are only leaving ourselves open to a much bigger and potentially more costly issue. You may think that everything is rosy as everyone always appears so happy in the pictures, and the posts are nothing but positive, but just like with the Titanic and the iceberg, going full steam ahead and ignoring all the warning signs, is a sure-fire way of it all ending in disaster.




About Author

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As an experienced and professional Consultant and Training Professional, I have had the privilege of working across a wide range of companies and business areas predominately in the Financial Services sector. Wherever I am and whatever job role I am undertaking on behalf of a client, you will always find me influencing and driving others to produce results.

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