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.’

How Not to be Negative with A Negative Feedback

negative feedback image


Let us face it. Feedback is hard to receive no matter how much we say we are open to “criticism.” It is an even more difficult task to give one. Instant feedback ranks the highest on the toughness scale.

A negative feedback brings a whole new level of discomfort which many of us are ill-equipped to deal with.

Performance appraisals are one thing. We are prepared for them. On the other hand, instant feedback, where there is an immediate step by step pointing of what wrong you are doing could be difficult to receive because everything is happening there and then. At the same time, you are expected to make corrections ASAP, as opposed to a performance appraisal which is more long term in its scope. And giving one is a dreaded task. One fears aggression, conflict, even tears.

So, what are some ways one can give or/and receive instant feedback, especially if it leans toward the negative?


  • Pause:

It is easy to get defensive when one hears something negative about a project one did so much dedication.

Actually listening, and not preparing responses to a negative feedback is a good idea. And to do that, taking a pause is essential.

Listen to what they have to say, and process the information.

Sometimes, when one looks back at the job, the mistakes pointed out are in fact, there.

  • Nothing Personal:

While listening to what others have to say about you, especially if it’s more on a negative side, it is a good idea to remember to not take things personally. There might be a problem with your work, but that doesn’t mean that the person has a problem with you.

Even if the person has a problem with you, it is never a bad idea to take a second look at your work. To make sure you aren’t being misled, the next point comes to rescue.

  • Know Thyself:

It is good to have conviction in oneself. It is good to feel that the work ones does is good enough. Confidence is essential. Self-awareness even more so. Being aware about one’s skills and capabilities is necessary. But it is also great to have enough confidence to take a second, third, fourth look at one’s work.

The same confidence and self-awareness could help you to pause and look back on your job when you receive feedback. They could be used to realise that even if you do receive a feedback that is negative, it wouldn’t be too difficult for you to understand your mistakes and make corrections. You would know when to make corrections.

Confidence and self-awareness can also help you, in case of a positive feedback to remain level-headed.



  • The Three Words:

Be honest, gentle and non-judgmental. As basic as it sounds, these are difficult stances to achieve.

Observe the steps in the process, and then point out the mistakes gently. Jumping to conclusions about someone’s work doesn’t go a long way.

The praise-criticise-praise approach works here. Adding these cushions is necessary to make sure the person receiving the feedback doesn’t lose confidence.

At the same time, it is also necessary to keep a certain honesty wherever needed. Partly to ensure quality, partly to communicate exactly what needs to be done but also because it is easy to see through when someone is sugar-coating too much.

  • Seriously, Nothing Personal:

As mentioned before it is important to remember while receiving feedback that there is nothing personal. It is even more so while giving one.

Make sure you are being as objective as you can while giving someone a feedback. It is necessary to keep aside office politics, personal biases, likes and dislikes.

You could dislike a person but still appreciate their work. You could be fond of someone but still be able to point out their mistakes.

  • Tell, Don’t Scold:

Tone and body language are important things that can add or remove warmth and comfort. Sometimes, it is not always the words but how they have been said that make a difference.

It is important to realise the difference between scolding and telling someone. Plus, it is a great idea to keep in mind that one is dealing with adults, and not kids, to make sure the tone is not patronising or belittling.

It is not possible to do away with feedback. What would happen to the quality then? Feedback is essential to progress, to make things better and learn. It is about all about the right way to give and receive.