The two words “toxic” and “positivity” are fundamentally juxtaposed. However, they converge all too often in our personal and professional lives as manifested by the people we see on social media that go to great lengths to present a façade of an ideal life that’s not realistically attainable without copious monetary resources and effort. We also see this in our professional lives by leaders who avoid the reality of a situation in favor of a positive outlook that’s beyond delusional. These people are the purveyors of toxic positivity and reality bending and can do social and professional harm. Addressing the reality of a situation head on may not always feel good, but it’s what needs to be done in order to form meaningful strategies that will lead to improvements.
Spotting Toxic Positivity & Reality Bending in Two Areas
Toxic Positivity & Reality Bending in Our Personal Lives
You know those people on social media that seem like they “have it all”? They’re killing it professionally, they’re super fit, their kids are well behaved, their home is spotless, their spouse is perfection, they use fresh ingredients from their garden to make James Beard award winning dinners night in and night out, and they use hashtags like #hustle #bosslife #elevate #abundance, and they tell you that you can have it all too. More than likely these people have an angle and are trying to sell a shortcut or bolster their image. In any case, what they’re promoting is simply not real, and it can do some significant mental harm to people who are fooled by this false front. What these images on social media conveniently don’t show us is the amount of time, effort, energy, and monetary resources that it took to make that happen. The lie is that their life is abundant, high-caliber, and completely effortless. At best what you see is a facade. At worst what you see is an intentional and direct effort to misguide people for some self-serving purpose.
Toxic Positivity & Reality Bending in the Workplace
Have you ever been an employee of a company who cares enough to stick your neck out by shinning the light on a current or upcoming business problem to management or executive leadership only to be snowed by an overly positive and unrealistic outlook on things. You even went so far as to think that they would appreciate your diligence and care, but were demoralized by the speed at which they brushed you off.
All too often good leaders fall prey to the “good intentions” precursor of toxic positivity and reality bending. They may think that they’re doing a good thing by keeping the team’s spirits up by focusing on the positive, but unfortunately the opposite occurs. Employees who effectively are the boots on the ground often understand the granular business challenges far better than leadership, and are acutely affected by these challenges on the daily. When these employees are told something by leadership that’s contrary to the reality that the know all too painfully well, they invariable feel an array of negative emotional responses.
The Impact of Toxic Positivity & Reality Bending on Employees
One of the fastest ways to demotivate an employee is to tell them that what they see is not real. Being written off by leadership who favors a delusional view is a killer and a surefire way to take the wind of your team’s sails.
Erosion of Trust, Respect, and Confidence in Leadership
When leadership does not accept reality or side steps to something positive employees will quickly lose respect in leadership. Once respect begins to erode it can quickly lead to a degradation of confidence and ultimately trust. Once trust has been eroded it is nearly impossible to resuscitate it.
Negative Corporate Culture
Employees talk, and once they’ve had a taste of toxic positivity and reality bending from their leaders they will naturally express this to their colleagues. This can quickly start to spread amongst a team given the fundamental truth to the statement of “misery loves company”. Unfortunately, leadership will often combat a decline in corporate culture resulting from toxic positivity by injecting even more overly positive sentiments into the conversation.
Apathy or an Exit
Once a company falls victim to pervasive toxic positivity and reality bending employees often fall categories: 1) those who become apathetic and 2) those who exit. In the end you’re going to have employees that resign to a mentality of just getting their paycheck, clocking-in and clocking-out, keeping their heads down, and doing what they’re told. Others, the employees you really want, will get sick of it and will exit as they’ve got better things to do with their time and energy.
What Leaders Should Do About Toxic Positivity
Whether applied across the personal or professional landscape leaders should not be delusional to the point of wholesale avoidance of reality in favor of what you’d like to believe. Rather, leaders must do the hard thing and address reality, by acknowledging the nature of any given situation. Acknowledging the true nature of a situation is not giving into negativity, and it will now scare off quality people. Yes, you can say a problem exists. Yes, you can say this problem is having an impact. Yes, you can say it will be a challenge to fix. However, you can then bring your experience to bear on the problem, and empower your people to do address and overcome these challenges through a combination of hard work, creativity, and diligence. You may not always come out a winner, but you will have the respect and trust of your peers, colleagues, and team intact.
Toxic positivity is a double-edged sword that can do harm to not only you but also those around you. As leaders, it’s important to avoid being overly optimistic and instead focus on the reality at hand. To this end, our team of experts are ready and waiting to partner with you in order to help solve your business challenges by evaluating where toxic positivity has been present in your organization. If all of this sounds intimidating and you want help enacting these principles, let us know! We’re here for YOU!