Learning & Development

Toxic Positivity

Can positivity really be “toxic”? Isn’t toxic positivity a bit of an oxymoron? Not if you ask some employees.

Lighten Up on The Lightness

Years ago, the stereotypical boss was a strict authoritarian, quick to yell and criticize. Partially as a negative reaction to this management style, Corporate America developed a business dialect of sanitized, almost passive-aggressive euphemisms to avoid the appearance of anger. For example, “This is absolute garbage. You have no idea what you’re doing,” has been replaced with, “I’m not understanding this.” “I literally explained this to you yesterday,” has been softened to, “Please see my previous email.” And “unfortunately” gets thrown around an awful lot.

But the softening of negativity isn’t the only workplace trend employees have noticed. Many managers and colleagues have also become annoyingly positive, to the point some would call the level of optimism toxic. In fact, there’s a term for this: “toxic positivity.”

What To Look Out For

Kendra Cherry, in an article for Verywell Mind, provides this definition for toxic positivity: “Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. While there are benefits to being optimistic and engaging in positive thinking, toxic positivity rejects all difficult emotions in favor of a cheerful and often falsely-positive façade.”

The problem with toxic positivity is that it simply doesn’t feel genuine. At best, it adds little value, because it’s not seen as genuine, but it can also cause a lot of annoyance, create a lack of trust and hinder efforts at actually addressing the underlying problem. Instead, management experts recommend using genuine empathy to actually understand challenges and using practical and sound solutions to address those challenges, rather than glossing over them with toxic positivity.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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