Thursday

Positivity Has Its Place

Being positive is a great attribute to have when it comes to discussing issues at the workplace. When a situation comes up, “looking on the bright side of things” is one of those catch phrases that is intended to encourage someone, but unfortunately for many, they say it to look good before others even when this advice doesn't always work or has little relevance to what is going on at the workplace.

One can be positive and be a fool too. A positive fool is that one who sees there is an ongoing fire at a friend's home. The poor friend is crying about losing everything, and before her tears are dried up, the optimist says something like, “Well, at least you and your family weren't there in the house when the fire started.  Don't worry, you will get your stuff back.” That isn't a very truthful or encouraging statement.  Family photos, keepsakes, and other valuables are lost forever--you can't get them back!There is a time and a place for everything. Being grateful for one's life is a good thing, but a statement like, “Here's a check to help you with your tragedy” sounds far better!
 
Sometimes positive statements are just used for selfish reasons at a workplace setting. Some employees use them to get out of speaking truth and to avoid adding details to a story or personal opinion. A positive phrase can be used as an escape out of a situation someone doesn't want to be in or is fearful of where the conversation might lead. For instance, you are asking someone a question about specific work events and he or she responds with, “All is well.” That doesn't say what anyone did, said, how much was done...it only communicates “no problems.” But then later, one's positive comment becomes more than meets the eye, the worker says, “Oh, that's right I forgot to tell you about...and I didn't do...I got someone else to do that...well, yes there was that issue...it wasn't that bad.”  Really?!
 
Workers will hide behind their positive phrases when they are doing the following: running from a situation that might make them feel uncomfortable, lack confidence in what they are doing, or are worried that what they say might be repeated to others. When one is honest with no worries, confident that things are managed well, and has nothing to hide, why avoid details when asked open-ended questions or why use feel-good phrases just because one doesn't feel like talking about a situation? Maybe you can get a way with such a strategy at home, but at work, different story.
When a leader is looking for open communication with details as to why something has or hasn't occurred, he or she doesn't want a response like, “Well, some people did what was asked, and others didn't, but there were no problems. That's just how things are. But we got things done. We can look at the glass half full or half empty in this situation.” What!? The manager is going to want to know, “Why were some people working and others were not?” The following is another fictional example except this person didn't bother to ask any questions about a challenge before blurting out something about being positive, “Well, people do things we don't like. I mean I didn't hear everything about what happened. I don't even know her personally. But I would like to think she meant nothing by her action. Oh, just try to be positive.” Meanwhile, the person is ignorant of the person and the details, but advises one to be positive. Huh!? It isn't any wonder why some so-called optimists end up overlooked for promotions, job offers, can't keep good relations with staff, etc. They don't know how to express positivity in such a way that will help them and others.  One should avoid saying too much of anything, including advising, when you don't know the facts. Sometimes all a speaker wants is a listening ear. A wise person would listen for the lesson in the conversation that might be beneficial to her or him. In the example, the listener should have been telling his or herself while listening to the concern, “If I ever encounter this person that supposedly gave her a hard time, I will watch what I say” instead of assuming that one's intentions might be positive. If so, why were there issues in the first place?

Never assume anything about anyone's intentions especially when you haven't personally had an encounter with them or don't know them or details.  From parents to CEOs, people have their reasons for why they do or don't do. Better to be quiet than to carelessly say something without doing a thorough investigation on a matter.
 
Positivity has its place. As crazy as it seems, it can also be used as a weapon. If I refuse to say anything negative, even when there are those moments where I need to speak up and tell the truth about a situation, then I could be fueling a fire. Some employees will refuse to help managers because they are more concerned about friendships with co-workers, so when a workplace challenge comes up, they rather stick with a list of nice phrases for everyone involved while ignoring facts and how their actions or in-actions might have contributed negatively to a situation. For example, a nervous contractor responds to a manager's question about a certain worker's frequent tardiness that has been witnessed by others, “I wouldn't say that she is always late...I mean she does stay late too...she's a good worker.” The individual in question just so happens to be a very good friend of the contractor. In another fictional example, a supervisor talks to a worker about not being clear on a directive given to a group of employees and he responds with, “Well, I told them that, I mean I know what you told me to tell them, but I thought it would be better if... besides everything turned out good.” Meanwhile, little does the employee know that the supervisor's paperwork says otherwise and things aren't “good.”
 
We can all go too far with all our flattery, niceties, and optimistic outlook on this person, that issue or that thing. There is always the story that one tells you and the story that goes on behind closed doors. There is the face you see at one's workplace and the one that he or she has away from work and it isn't always “great, wonderful, friendly...”

In closing, consider the following advice when it comes to being positive. 
  • For every statement that makes one feel uncomfortable or has a negative tone to it, one should refrain from shooting everything down with positivity so as to protect one's reputation.  Instead, speak truth, don't sugarcoat.  Avoid offering your opinion unless asked.
  • Before reaching an assumption that one, who is telling a story must “calm down, be nice, be good, look on the bright side...,” consider the speaker's point of view. 
  • Look beyond the scope of your personal experience.
  • Ask questions first, save commentary or advice when the person is willing to receive. 
  • You can't build a quality relationship with anyone whether at work or at home if you choose to defend someone or something while using an assortment of feel-good statements. We must all keep in mind an old piece of wisdom, “Think, before you speak.”
Nicholl McGuire maintains this blog and other blogs including one for apartment and home renters.  She is a former property manager, former supervisor, and has held other leadership positions in the past in a variety of industries.

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