Being optimistic and positive can be seen as being an asset and something needed by everyone, but unfortunately forcing this positivity can be incredibly damaging to our general wellbeing and emotional wellbeing. Toxic positivity is the excessive or ineffective overgeneralization of a happy state in all situations. There are some times, when life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and trying to convince yourself otherwise is minimising the role that emotions play in our lives.
Launching into a positive pep talk whenever someone comes to you with an issue, might instead encourage the other person to not open up to you at all. This is a drastic failure of your role as a leader… it can also be incredibly annoying to feel that the other person is lacking empathy and any form of communication skills. It can also inhibit growth on both sides as you’re unable to move forward or develop your skills without practicing empathy.
I am always someone who tries to look at the positive in any situation or tries to look for the sunshine in every rainy day (which is not always easy!), but I also realise that sometimes you just need to rant, you need to let the emotions out. As a leader and Project Manager, I try to ensure that my team members can do this in a way that does not damage the project or team dynamic. I do this via 1-1’s or coaching to be able to help them along their growth journey.
Toxic Positivity does not just mean imply that you’re happily positive or see the positive in every situation. It can mean that you shut down processing other emotions, or addressing the root of their feelings. Why are they upset? Where did it come from?
Whilst cultivating a positive mindset is vital for resilience, it needs to come from reality. We can sometimes overdose on the positive to try and melt away the bad or negative feelings that we might have inside our body. It’s OK to say: “Today, I feel upset but that’s OK as it’s a difficult time right now”. Validating your feelings and emotions does not mean that they do not exist.
What can I do to change my mindset?
It’s good to have a look at where the issues lies. Are you not listening? Or is it just not being empathic towards the emotions that they are feeling (e.g. grief, anger).
With every conversation that you have, aim to summarise your understanding of their experience. Then, I’d check that your assumptions are correct and then clarify if they are looking for advice or looking to just rant.
Being positive is great, but it has it’s time and place. As leader, you need to learn when which emotion / response is best and what would be best for the situation.