by Joshua Berry, founder of Econic
You’re not coming at this from the right angle. Just think more positively. Keep that thought to yourself.
We’ve all heard statements like these at some point in our lives, and they seem even more prevalent in the world of business. While business leaders want to promote positivity, is there a point where it can turn toxic? Or, what about a business environment that lacks positivity altogether and focuses only on the negative in any situation?
Toxic Positivity and Negativity: What Are The Differences?
Toxic positivity is expecting an optimistic and overly positive outlook no matter what the situation is. Have you ever felt guilty for feeling an emotion such as sadness, frustration, or anxiety? Perhaps you decided these feelings aren’t acceptable, and in an attempt to “get rid of them,” you pushed them down and tried masking them by telling yourself that “there’s no need to feel this way… just be positive.” This is a classic example of toxic positivity which can manifest internally or be expressed externally by others. This appropriately-named way of thinking is poisonous to humans, in large part because it invalidates and dismisses a person’s genuine feelings.
Negativity can be just as toxic, but it works differently with its effect on people. Instead of relying on positivity as a bandaid for sticky emotions as toxic positivity does, negativity expects and encourages unpleasant emotions – no matter the situation. This attitude dwells on negative emotions offering little to no room for creating solutions. There’s no silver lining, glass half full, or upside to any situation or experience.
Both toxic positivity and negativity create barriers and often damaging consequences when it comes to their presence within a business ecosystem that’s made up of individuals, teams, and organizations. When we are perpetually negative or expressing toxic positivity, we close the door on empathy, awareness, and authenticity – 3 crucial functions of business leadership.
Toxic positivity and negativity slam the door shut when it comes to any genuine connection with others. Empathy is the energy that propels the prosperity of any business ecosystem. Without it, the ecosystem would soon crumble as individuals can never feel safe in a place that doesn’t connect with them by either invalidating their feelings or not holding the emotional space to understand them.
A healthy team requires raw, organic materials – we can think of these natural elements as the thoughts and feelings of others. In order to keep the business ecosystem thriving, you must not fear sticking your hands into the dirt that surrounds each part of it. This means accepting all emotions that arise and addressing any negativity in the workplace.
We have tunnel vision when we’re engrossed in negativity or toxic positivity. Instead of seeing things as they are, we experience our business ecosystem with close-mindedness and a lack of awareness. Without this awareness, we cease to exist in reality and limit ourselves to the confines of a small and fixed inner world that we incorrectly deem as truth. We then project this distorted view of reality to those around us by dismissing others’ feelings, thoughts, and perspectives. If their actions don’t align with our idea of how things should be done, we shut them down.
The lack of awareness that coincides with toxic positivity and negativity makes it nearly impossible for the business ecosystem to survive – let alone, flourish. How can we protect and enhance an ecosystem when we can’t see all the moving parts?
Authenticity requires us to acknowledge and accept all of our emotions, negative and positive. When we’re working from negativity or toxic positivity, we aren’t being our truest selves as we aren’t genuine with our perspectives, feelings, thoughts, and experiences. This lack of acceptance can lead to individuals losing touch with their inner selves causing a disconnect with reality, a lack of clarity, ingenuine relationships, loss of individuality, and feelings of unfulfillment.
Inauthenticity as a byproduct of negativity or toxic positivity makes it nearly impossible for a healthy work environment, as individuals aren’t meant to suppress their true selves by putting on this facade comprised of ingenuine feelings.
Toxic positivity and negativity are threats to any business ecosystem. They leave no room for empathy, awareness, or authenticity which are paramount to leading a team to success. Once you better understand how toxic positivity and negativity can impact your business, there’s no doubt that you’re closer to a more prosperous and healthier environment for you, your team, and your organization.
Joshua Berry is the founder of Econic, a consulting firm and Certified B-Corp focused on innovation, leadership, and the future of work. A world-class facilitator and speaker, Joshua has sparked change at organizations like John Deere, US Bank, P&G, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Ameritas, and Teach for America. Joshua’s new book, “Dare to Be Naive: Unleash Ripples of Impact in Life and Business”, debuts in Spring/Summer 2023.