By Joshua Berry, founder of Econic
You’re not coming at it from the right perspective. Just think more positively. Keep that thought to yourself.
We’ve all heard statements like this at some point in our lives, and they seem to be even more common in the business world. While business leaders want to promote positivity, is there a point where it can become toxic? Or how 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
A toxic positivity expects an optimistic and overly positive outlook, no matter what the situation is. Have you ever felt guilty about feelings like sadness, disappointment, or anxiety? Maybe you’ve decided that these feelings are unacceptable, and in an attempt to “get rid of them,” you’ve pushed them away and tried to mask them, telling yourself, “There’s no need to feel this way… just be positive“. This is a classic example of toxic positivity that can be internalized or externalized by others. This aptly named mindset is toxic to people, in large part because it invalidates and ignores one’s true feelings.
Negativity can be just as toxic, but it works differently because of its effect on people. Instead of relying on positivity as a vehicle for sticky emotions, as toxic positivity does, negativity expects and encourages unpleasant emotions regardless of the situation. This attitude is based on negative emotions that offer little room for creating solutions. There is no silver lining, glass half full or irrelevant to any situation or experience.
Both toxic positivity and negativity create barriers and often detrimental effects when it comes to their presence in the business ecosystem of individuals, teams and organizations. When we are constantly negative or exhibit toxic positivity, we close the door to empathy, awareness, and authenticity, the 3 essential functions of business leadership.
Toxic positivity and negativity close the door when it comes to truly connecting with others. Empathy is the energy that drives any business ecosystem to thrive. Without it, the ecosystem will soon collapse because individuals can never feel safe in a place that has nothing to do with them, 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. To keep a business ecosystem thriving, you shouldn’t be afraid to stick your hands in the dirt that surrounds every part of it. This means acknowledging any emotions that arise and addressing any negativity in the workplace.
We have tunnel vision when we are stuck in negativity or toxic positivity. Instead of seeing things as they are are, we experience our business ecosystem with intimacy and lack of awareness. Without this awareness, we cease to exist in reality and confine ourselves to the confines of a small and fixed inner world that we mistake for truth. We then project this distorted view of reality onto those around us, ignoring the feelings, thoughts and perspectives of others. If their actions don’t match our idea of how things should be done, we shut them down.
A lack of awareness coupled with toxic positivity and negativity makes it nearly impossible for a business ecosystem to survive, let alone thrive. How can we protect and improve 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 operate from negativity or toxic positivity, we are not being our truest selves because we are not being honest with our perspectives, feelings, thoughts, and experiences. This lack of acceptance can cause individuals to lose touch with their inner self, causing disconnection from reality, lack of clarity, genuine relationships, loss of individuality, and feelings of unfulfillment.
Inequality as a result of negativity or toxic positivity makes a healthy work environment almost impossible because individuals are not meant to repress their true selves by wearing this facade of authentic feelings.
Toxic positivity and negativity are threats to any business ecosystem. They leave no room for empathy, awareness, or authenticity, which are critical to leading a team to success. When you better understand how toxic positivity and negativity can affect your business, there’s no doubt that you’re closer to a more prosperous and healthy environment for yourself, 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 driven change at organizations such as 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 influence in life and business,” debuting Spring/Summer 2023.