Reversing Toxic Positivity

August 2022
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In the PR profession, it can be easy to focus exclusively on having a positive mindset. The issue with that mindset lies when we are working with those who are going through personal or professional challenges. 

While with good intentions, phrases like “They’re in a better place now,” “Get on with it,” and “Positive vibes only” can cause more harm than good. These phrases are examples of toxic positivity, defined as “the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset.”

If you’ve been a recipient of toxic positivity, it could have had a negative impact on your mental health. In short, overcoming toxic positivity is about reading the physical and virtual room. As business leaders, we not only need to recognize our own emotions, but also those of our colleagues and clients as well.

How can we reverse toxic positivity? Here are three ways.

Understand and communicate our emotions. 

Much like a heartbeat or breath, an emotion is a physiological experience to give you information about the world. Research from UC Berkeley says there are 27 human emotions. From admiration, boredom, and calmness, to disgust, fear, and surprise, how we feel and communicate these emotions is critical. 

When we recognize these emotions more profoundly, they can positively impact our personal and professional relationships. Understanding and expressing our feelings is fundamental to having good mental health. 

Next time someone asks you how you’re doing, particularly during a challenging time, go deeper by examining and sharing one of the emotions identified. 

Be vulnerable by saying “I don’t know.”

We are often quick with our responses. As leaders, problem identifiers and solvers, we feel under pressure to have all the answers. We don’t have all the answers and can’t solve all the problems! 

We must respect ourselves enough to say when we don’t have a reply to a question. We must stop putting pressure on ourselves to have answers to all the questions. 

It’s also a sign of vulnerability; a positive trait people look for in leaders. Saying, “I don’t have all the answers,” or “I don’t know,” is incredibly powerful and ultimately shows leadership. 

Have a social media pause plan in place.

Consider pausing your brand’s social media channels when a local, national or global emergency occurs. The last thing your fans and followers want to see in their feed during a crisis is a sunny, cheerful post about an upcoming sale. 

Social media community management tools help ease the challenge of scheduling content. However, if you use an automated scheduling tool, please make sure you have a pause plan in case of an emergency. 

Installing these recommendations will help retain and grow your relationships, even during the most challenging times. Be safe. Be kind. Be well. 

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