Every office has a person who has taken a few too many drags on the pep pipe. A manager or co-worker whose sunny disposition can cloud an otherwise delightfully pessimistic day.
Im talking about the patrons of positivity, the bright-siders, the people who see every glass as half full and every mistake as an error-portunity.
You dont have to be like me a lifelong subscriber to American Cynics Illustrated to find these folks grating or detrimental.
A recent note from a reader makes a good argument that they are. It described a boss who is an aphorism-spouting optimism addict. His insistence on putting a positive spin on everything has workers afraid to express their concerns or frustrations.
Im baffled and annoyed by his rosiness, the reader wrote.
Barbara Ehrenreich understands this. She wrote a book called Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, a searing takedown of the think positive-ization of America. She writes that most Americans were introduced to the concept of achievement-through-optimism by Norman Vincent Peales 1952 book The Power of Positive Thinking.
Ehrenreich wrote: Norman Vincent Peale grasped this as well as anyone: the work of Americans, and especially of its ever-growing white-collar proletariat, is in no small part work that is performed on the self in order to make that self more acceptable and even likable to employers, clients, co-workers and potential customers. Positive thinking had ceased to be just a balm for the anxious or a cure for the psychosomatically distressed. It was beginning to be an obligation imposed on all American adults.
And here I wanted to blame it all on motivational posters. But they are simply part of the think-positive, self-help industry that has left us with people who think they can manage real workplace problems with little more than platitudes.
Everyone has taken the idea of happiness too far, said Todd Kashdan, a psychology professor at George Mason University and author of Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life.
Kashdan noted that theres a difference between happiness and feeling energized.
Work is always going to be work. Its a labor. Sometimes its good; sometimes its a drag. But if your boss and co-workers create an environment where you feel challenged, appreciated and engaged, youll likely be happy more often than not.
Kashdan said: As a boss, do you support peoples autonomy? Do they feel a sense of belonging? Do they believe that youll still like them even if they screw up? These are psychological needs that cut across humanity.
Its all about being honest, which is what workers want from their bosses and colleagues.
And if someone just wants the rah-rah pep talk?
If they tell you that they only want to hear about roses and fairy tales, then work with them in a nice, appreciative, inquisitive way and figure out why they would not want feedback that could improve their performance and help them move up. This could be someone whos so scared of making a mistake that theyll never have aspirational goals, Kashdan said.
In her book, Ehrenreich notes that eschewing positive thinking doesnt mean youre adopting negative thinking: The alternative to both is to try to get outside of ourselves and see things as they are, or as uncolored as possible.
If I do something well, tell me. If the teams doing great, tell us.
But take down that ridiculous poster with the soaring eagle.
Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune workplace columnist. email@example.com