Get Past Fake Positivity

4 minute read

Fake Positivity Isn’t Helping Anyone

I remember being in the field on military training exercises in the Army, and it would rain. Some guys would call it “liquid sunshine” and put on a good face about how great it would be to train in these conditions. Others would say something like “at least it’s not snowing” in a poor attempt to cheer people up. What happened was that I (and others) through these people, were detached from our impending muddy reality, and how much that was going to suck. When things get tough, acknowledge it…fake positivity isn’t helping anyone, especially you.

Some of Each, and Not Too Much

I’ve been told since I was very young to not complain about tough situations. So, what is the healthy window between being overly positive and whining? I like the place where we can talk about a hard situation honestly. Let’s understand what we’re dealing with and get a grip on it, including being honest about how we feel about it. There’s no shame in being pissed, frustrated, or overwhelmed when we feel that way about situations.

Get Clear on What’s Helpful

For each person and situation, what is a helpful conversation can be different. The key is to say what you want and when. If you want to have a high-level review of the situation, then say that. If you want to talk about it tomorrow after you’ve had time to process it better, then ask for that. People won’t automatically know what works for you, so be sure to speak up. If you’re supporting someone and they aren’t saying what they want, describe some options and ask what works for them.

In my experience, describing bad situations as bad is important. It’s not whiney, it’s reality. I also don’t want to “wallow” in it by repeating the scary parts again and again, or going into lots of crappy outcomes when a couple of examples paint a sufficient picture. When I’m getting close to my limit on that, I like to say something like, “let’s stop this part of the conversation since we’ve described things well enough, and I’d rather put my energy somewhere else”.

Recognize a Situation for What It Is

When we listen to ourselves and others who are in a tough spot without adding a bunch of fake positivity, we are doing two important things. We’re listening to them to understand what they are working through (facts and feelings), and we’re showing that we value what they have to say. If someone describes a situation and we are overly positive about it, we can send a message that we aren’t thinking clearly, aren’t listening, don’t actually understand the situation, or are naïve. We may also accidentally send a message that how THEY feel about the situation is “wrong”.

Be Hopeful, Optimistic, or Encouraging Instead

If we shift to acknowledging a tough situation for what it is, we can see where we have options to affect the situation, or how it may eventually change. There may be grounds for being hopeful or optimistic. In an example situation where sales are down, simply saying, “Cheer up – things will get better!!” can come across as off-putting and trite. Bringing hope or optimism grounded in something real may help. In the sales situation, someone could instead say, “It sounds like this is really tough and you’re frustrated right now…and you do a great job helping people connect with your offerings…this may just take a little time.”

The next time you come across a friend or colleague who is going through a rough situation, ask if they want someone to just listen, or someone to help solve the problem. This exchange may sound uncomfortable and honestly, I’m still working on this myself. It isn’t always easy to say, and it’s a good way to know what they want instead of guessing or hoping. Then it’s up to us to do what they have asked for, which is the greatest gift we can give.