When it is Okay to be Negative

Relax, it is okay to be negative sometimes!

A positive attitude, as we have talked about in our earlier posts almost always gets one through. It is important to always find the silver lining on stormy clouds. But is there such a thing as excessive positivity? Can an excess of positivity make one unproductive? Is it possible to overdo the positive attitude and end up achieving the opposite of what set out to achieve?

In any context, even the professional, it is important to acknowledge the full range of human experiences. We have an older article written about using humour at workplace, and how that is a much-needed cheer amidst the straight-faced and formal professional world, a much-needed human touch. Humour humanises leaders, and alleviates stressful situations at workplaces. Why? Because it acknowledges the full range of human emotions and psychological states.

Similarly, negative emotions also need to be acknowledged. It is one thing to find the positives in a negative situation, and it is a different thing to not even acknowledge that something is wrong, that something needs to be fixed. There are times that it is better to let people express the negative emotion instead of trying to sweep it under the positivity carpet.

Take this scenario given here, in article by Growth Partners Consulting:

Michael works for a boss that seemingly refuses to acknowledge how bad their work environment has become. He has tried to discuss it with his boss but feels dismissed. She seems to ignore the problems and spins everything into a positive, “This is such a great growth opportunity! Let’s focus on what we’re learning.” or “Hey. Cheer up! At least we have jobs, right?” or “Look on the bright side. Everyone is working hard and that means they’re committed. Thank you for all you do.”

Michael feels his boss is ignoring reality. It’s nice that she thanks him, but it feels hollow, and his concerns trivialized. Her optimism doesn’t help, and his frustration is building.

Here, in this scenario, the constant positive attitude is actually leading to frustration and demotivation!

Wellness and mental-health jargon often calls this forced attitude of positivity as ‘toxic positivity’. Let us thus see why it is sometimes necessary to acknowledge the negatives and what should one do when faced with stormy clouds and the option to look for silver linings is not exercisable.

Problem-Solving Needs Acknowledging the Problem:

In the example given above, it would be much better if the said boss acknowledged that the work environment needs improvement instead of telling everyone to ‘cheer up’. Constantly looking at the positive side might hinder the view of the bigger picture. How does one focus on the ‘growth opportunity’ as she mentions, if we do not even acknowledge what is it that we need to grow beyond?

It is About Making People Feel Heard:

Making people feel heard isn’t always limited to ideas and brainstorming. It isn’t always about getting everyone participate to in a meeting or getting everyone’s perspective about major company decisions. Making people feel heard is also about providing an environment where employees and co-workers feel safe in giving feedback which might be a bit unpleasant or leaning on the negative side. It is also about letting one articulate their sadness, discomfort, dissatisfaction, disagreement and grievances in a way that will help them get around it.

So, what should be done?

The article cited above goes on to list out some ideas one can adopt instead of sweeping the negative emotion under the positivity carpet. Listening first and resisting the urge to solve everything right away is one approach mentioned. Listening makes sense, but wait, resisting the urge to solve?

 How does one solve problems if we resist the urge to solve? The catch is to facilitate problem solving. Sometimes, people do not even want solutions, especially when the negative emotions are stemming from a tragic life event- they just want an acknowledgement of the problem and an acceptance of reality.

When faced with a dialogue and conversation about something negative, it is best to listen, ask questions which makes one feel heard and, in the process, arrive at possible ‘solutions’ instead of straight up ‘offering’ a solution always. Questions like:

  • What would be helpful to you?
  • What is the most realistic next step that would be helpful to you?

As Organisational psychologist Adam Grant sums it all up in a Tweet,

‘Pressuring people to be positive turns emotional intelligence into emotional labour. Toxic workplaces police people’s emotions. Healthy workplaces offer freedom of emotional expression. Showing stress or sadness isn’t unprofessional. It’s human.’

Leadership in Little Things


There is the picture of a larger than life figure leading an army.

Sometimes there is an archetypal visual of a booming war cry.

 In a more contemporary imagination, we imagine world political leaders in their suits and blazers, shaking hands and signing treaties.

But being a leader doesn’t necessarily entail any of the above mentioned grandeur!

Leading teams in an office environment is definitely not about leading armies and countries. But there are some qualities which all leaders, in all environments display.

 Leadership is reflected in the minutiae of our lives.

 Leadership is not about force. In fact, what author Daniel Goleman has to say about an essential quality of a leader has nothing to do with bossing people around at all.

Goleman considers ‘Emotional Intelligence’ as the quality which puts a leader apart. Some seemingly simple characteristics of a person with high EI are:

  • Empathy. The ability to put yourself in other’s shoes.
  • Self-awareness and self-regulation. Being aware of one’s emotions and in control of them, especially during crises.
  • An ability to handle interpersonal relationships in a balanced way.

One has to realise that true leadership lies in the gestures and actions. Possessing a quality is one thing, acting over it is what makes a leader.

Let us look at the quality in the context of a workplace

  It is true that some designations, have “leadership” attached to it, for example a manager, director, etc. But a leader as such could be anyone, irrespective of their post. It’s the actions that show leadership qualities.

 Some projects often involve efforts of many people. A leader here is someone who:

  • Sets immediate and ultimate goal: it could be as small as setting up an unofficial deadline for all team-members.
  • Organises the roles of all those involved in the project.
  • Doesn’t simply “assign” responsibilities. Rather, he or she shapes the conversation in such a way that there is an element of choice of the team-members.
  • Appreciates and gives credit to everyone’s contribution.
  • Encourages to communicate ideas, no matter how bizarre one might feel they are.

   He or she listens to what each one has to say and then through dialogue and consultation brings each member to pick the responsibility which perfectly matches their capabilities.

  A good leader is almost always chosen unofficially and without any sort of announcement. There is a sort of unspoken, unanimous agreement working here.

  Meetings are tricky. Sometimes they might turn boring, or employees may feel they are pointless. A leader would be someone who:

  • Makes a suggestion about an agenda if the meeting seems to lack direction.
  • Keeps a tab whether everyone has said what they wanted to say.
  • Takes charge if someone is feeling hesitant in communicating.
  • Keeps a tab on the structure of the meeting: when did it begin, when will it end, what would this meeting cover and what the previous one did.

Leadership involves finding a purpose for everyone, through collaboration.

It is not about exercising power but about empowering your colleagues.

It is not about rivalries and ego-tussles. It is about creating an environment with good participation, dialogue, and flow of ideas. It is about making your colleagues comfortable and at the same time, making sure no one feels hesitant to step out of the comfort zone, including yourself.