The tyranny of positivity
January 6, 2011 9 Comments
Our last team meeting of the year is usually a positive affair. It’s the time when the entire team comes together and shares their successes and plans for the future. We talk about how we can support each other’s work and discuss any problems.
But the entire team is being made redundant in March and so there are no future plans to discuss and no one really felt like celebrating our 2010 achievements. It felt like our successes and hard work didn’t count any more. So instead we invited a colleague to talk about change management. It was a really helpful session and she talked about the tyranny of positive thinking that permeates when bad things happen. Think of the cancer sufferers who declare that they are going to beat the disease through positive thinking alone. Brilliant, if this helps you through a really difficult time but what about if you want to crawl into bed and scream at the world?
We’re also given corny platitudes when people die. I can’t count the number of ‘he had a good innings’ and ‘he wouldn’t want you to be sad’ advice I was given when my father died. And I smiled back and nodded while wanting to smack these people in their smug, cheery faces.
It’s uncomfortable for us to deal with the messy, ugly facts of life so we prefer to create our own happy realities where people fight their diseases, battle through their grievances with a grin and cheerily keep calm and carry on when their lives change.
It’s the same with the huge cuts we’re facing at the moment. Surely we knew that all the borrowing and lending would end in tears and surely we knew we were spending ourselves into a frenzy of debt? We skipped around in our happy world of credit cards and good employment, cartoon birds tweeting at our shoulders and bunny rabbits signing off our mortgage payments.
Now I’m losing the job that I love and I’m expected to be positive and cheerful all the time. People say things like, ‘what an amazing opportunity!’ and, ‘something will turn up!’ They may be right and this may be the best thing that ever happened to me but I reserve the right to be fed up and angry sometimes.
The same colleague who led the change management session has an interesting way of dealing with difficult conversations: she listens carefully without interrupting, tilts her head to one side and says, ‘poor you.’ It shows you’ve listened and empathised without interrupting or offering cheesy platitudes.
So if you bump into me in a corridor or sit next to me in a meeting, you know what to do.
PS still looking for ideas for that perfect post-redundancy holiday. Join the debate!