Beware the pitfalls of “Toxic Positivity” when trying to improve performance in the workplace.
Written by: Sahil Dhaliwal
It may seem evident that positivity in the face of adversity is a good thing, but that may not always be the case, especially at work.
The power of positive thinking has gotten quite the reputation over the past few years— and for good reason. Positive thinking is a crucial skill set that can help us remove ourselves from stress and frustration, inhabit a new perspective, and think more clearly. However, not all positivity is created equal. Toxic positivity is defined as “the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process results in denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.”
Toxic positivity can seriously harm workplace culture when we choose to respond with false assurances rather than with empathy. It may seem like a small issue that an employee’s feelings weren’t validated, but overtime it could lead to them feeling like they can’t be honest, finding elsewhere to complain, or letting their concerns affect their work ethic and output.
So, how do you effectively tell the difference between good-natured optimism and toxic positivity? Productive positivity tends to provide a sense of ease, lightness and refreshing support to, while toxic positivity makes someone feel invalidated, dismissed, or ignored in the face of some positive maxim or quote.
“Your feelings are totally valid and you have my support. How can I best help you?” vs. Look on the bright side, everything is fine!
“I see you”, “I hear you”, “I can understand how this is difficult for you” vs. At least you have a job right now.
“Tell me more” or “Do you want to talk more in depth about it?” vs. Don’t worry about it, try to take your mind off it.
“It’s tough now but we can figure it out. Would you like to find a solution together?” vs. Don’t worry, you’re smart you’ll figure it out.
“You know yourself best. It’s normal to feel overburdened/frustrated/tired at times. Listen to yourself and take the time you need. Let me help where I can.” vs. Everything happens for a reason. It was probably meant to be.
The differences may be small, but their effect is quite profound. It’s clear which statements make you feel supported and which just feel condolences for the sake of saying something. The change in wording may seem small, but it goes a long way in the workplace by showing your team that you’re genuinely invested in their well-being and are willing to offer a helping hand or a worthy solution, if they need it. Toxic positivity is an easy bad habit that may cause major consequences down the road, so it’s best to nip it in the bud sooner rather than later.
Also published on Medium.