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Too Much Positivity Can Be Toxic

Written by: Mike Edwards, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Is it possible to be too positive? Can too much positivity become toxic?


Before I give you my perspective on these questions, let’s first look at what positivity is.


Positivity, by definition, is “the practice of being or tendency to be positive or optimistic in attitude.”


I love life when it’s full of positivity. I feel optimistic and as if nothing can get in my way. That doesn’t mean I’m always smiling and joyous, though.


However, positivity means I know that everything will be fine despite life’s little struggles.

Shifting from positivity to negativity


Let’s rewind a couple of years. When the pandemic hit, my business dried up almost overnight. It was crushing as I’d had many years of prosperity.


In those early months of the pandemic, I lost sight of my positivity. I became pretty pessimistic about the future of my business.


Then, something clicked for me.


It happened while doing some financial calculations. We had enough money available to continue without new revenue for more than a year before we’d have to touch any investments.


That changed everything for me.


First, it felt good to know that I’ve been so successful that I could go without revenue for an extended period. That didn’t happen by accident.


Knowing this made me optimistic about the future of my business.


This optimism informed a decision that resulted in me publishing my book, rebuilding my website, and more.


Then, while rebuilding my business, I decided to invest a significant amount of money in the business.


It seemed like a crazy decision, given my revenue still wasn’t back to pre-pandemic levels. However, I believed things would work out better by investing.


And I was right. It’s taken a lot of hard work and long hours at times. However, my business is slowly but steadily getting back on track.


However, could I have swung the positivity pendulum too far?


For example, I could have told myself that customers will just show up since I’m passionate about my work and have been successful for years.


I could have sat back and enjoyed living off my past success and convinced myself that somehow it’d work out.


I might have even convinced myself that I’ve been successful in the past and I don’t need help.


There are so many ways in which too much positivity could have caused my business to fail.


What’s the problem with positivity


The problem with too much positivity is it can mask the problems.


Let’s go to our primitive selves to illustrate. If a tiger is stalking you in the primitive world, positivity could get you killed.


Imagine walking through the jungle, thinking, “what a beautiful day! I don’t need to worry about tigers as there’s no way they’d attack during such a nice day.”


Without the negative feelings, your amygdala wouldn’t do its thing, and you wouldn’t find yourself deciding between fight, flight, or freeze.


Thankfully, very few of us find ourselves in a position of being stalked by a tiger.


However, the wiring is the same.


What, for example, would have happened if, during the early days of the pandemic, I denied the negative feelings I was experiencing.


If I had worked to stay positive, I doubt I’d still be in business. Positivity might have kept me doing the same thing I’d always done to attract new business. Unfortunately, though, my old ways relied on many in-person contacts.


By acknowledging and allowing my negative feelings in, I could process and respond to what was happening.


The negative feelings first had me freeze, which soon became a fight response.


Toxic positivity in business


I see this happening in business, often in very subtle ways.

  • Trying to resolve conflict by advocating for positivity or implementing a new process, rather than confronting what led to the confrontation. As a result, the conflict became more toxic, and one person was eventually let go for their actions.

  • One company I know was implementing a new system to run their operation. The project was several years late and millions over budget. Yet, they proudly told me how they’d persevered and got it done. Their positivity meant they didn’t learn from the experience, they spent years cleaning up the resulting problems, and they repeated the experience a few years later.

  • A customer once told me how their projects were always very successful. I asked by what measure, and they said that they always delivered on time and within budget. On investigation, we found that none of their projects succeeded by this measure. There was a pattern of re-baselining the plan repeatedly as they couldn’t possibly tell management the truth (their words ‒ not mine)

  • I once built a status report that painted a fairly troubling picture for my project. Our habit was that we would vet our status reports with our VP before publishing them. On this occasion, my VP called me and told me I couldn’t publish this report as-is. She told me the Sr. Managers didn’t want to hear bad news. As a result, we had nothing but struggles for the remainder of that project.

Balancing positivity and negativity


I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I think positivity is a bad thing. Positivity is an essential ingredient for success in whatever you do.


However, you cannot put aside the negativity or you risk missing an important piece of information.

  • Rather than masking negativity with positivity, use positivity as a reminder that you can solve any problem.

  • Create a culture where people feel safe to express what’s on their minds, even if their thoughts are hard to hear.

  • Value factual information over politically correct information.

There are plenty of ways to remain positive while allowing the negative feelings in. Find your balance of positive and negative, and your culture will be far healthier.


Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

 

Mike Edwards, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Mike activates leaders and teams to create their best life and work experience. As a professional coach and mentor, Mike uses his skills and experience to help people see what they can’t see for themselves. Through this, people take responsibility for improving the world they work and live in. Mike is the author of Activate your Leadership, a blogger, and Co-host of The Open Door Podcast.



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