First off, I think the term “professional” is bullshit but it was the most applicable for this post (want to see more about this? Follow my ig or facebook page). Regardless of my views on professionalism, we live under capitalism so we function and support our living with our professions. Toxic positivity is a great marketing tool, a powerful way to get internal employee buy in and having a good attitude is valued in the professional world. I believe it’s only fair, as your life and career coach, to dig into how corporations, MLMs, coaches (yes, even my own industry) and SO MANY OTHERS use toxic positivity to gaslight people.
Let’s jump in!
Corporations (the “professional” world)
Efficiency is the name of the game in capitalism. At some point a study was put out that happiness was essential to employee productivity so in an effort to increase productivity companies began manufacturing happiness. The problem with manufactured happiness or toxic positivity in the workplace is that it represses negative experiences instead of embracing and fixing them.
Creating an authentically positive culture sounds great but I’ve yet to experience one that could last. The problem usually is that leadership and employees cling SO HARD to the positive outlook that they completely ignore or reject any negativity – creating an inauthentic culture.
From my time in HR and the countless webinars, conferences and conversations I had I think it is obvious that employees do not want manufactured or forced happiness they just want to be heard, have their ideas considered and to be treated like people. Employees want authenticity not positivity. They would rather have a voice in change than be told to be “happy” about what they do. This means that corporations that are “good vibes only” need to start listening to their employees and honoring their ideas.
Other places toxic positivity can come up in the workplace include:
- Promotion conversations. Have you ever been told that a promotion is within your reach if you follow a specific blueprint or plan only to follow along and not get the promotion? Were you given the encouragement to “just work harder” and the promotion would be yours?
- Watercooler chats. Have you been reprimanded for complaining about how things were going or asked to have a “positive outlook” on a situation that does not look or feel positive to you? That’s toxic positivity in action. The purpose of this conversation may have been to intimidate you back into your rose colored glasses.
- Have you brought up an issue only to be told to be more optimistic or have it brushed under the rug? This is toxic positivity! It invalidates your experience, thoughts and feelings and tells you that you need to only focus on the good.
There are so many more examples of where this comes up in the workplace and it sucks! My rule of thumb with this is to try to help my clients find and apply for companies that are honest about their wins and losses, companies that allow their employees to show up as a full human with a full range of emotions and if they end up at a company that gaslights them I empower them to gtfo.
**Yes, before it comes up positive thinking is a powerful tool but allowing the negatives in is important too. Positivity is like sugar – too much may lead to a stomach ache but don’t overdo it on negativity either. It’s all about being realistic, balanced and finding a middle ground that vibes with you!
Now onto the low hanging fruit! If you’re questioning how I feel about MLMs, network marketing or whatever other inverted funnel system you would like to call it take a look at this blog. In summary, I am not a fan.
Toxic positivity is used to gaslight people into continuing to invest in their pyramid scheme. How? A few examples below:
- Toxic positivity can be used to oversimplify things “Hey girly! You just need to recruit 7 of your bossbabe friends to join us and you’ll make ALL your money back AND more!”
- Toxic positivity is used to keep people from quitting when they begin to see losses. Saying things like “If you work hard you’ll make your money back!” or “you’ve already invested this much time, why would you quit now?” to convince them that success is always JUST around the corner.
Am I saying every person in an MLM is an evil monster and intentionally doing this? Absolutely not. But what I am saying is that toxic positivity is ingrained in the culture of this industry!
The coaching industry can be similar to MLMs. There are a LOT of coaches out there that don’t really care about your success – there are ALSO a lot of wonderful coaches who truly want to help people. So how can you tell the difference? Try to figure out how they feel about real human emotions. I do this by looking for blatant toxic positivity in their content.
- For me, it’s ok if they occasionally post content that plays into toxic positivity (I’ve done and said things that fit in this category under the ignorant guise of motivation) but if they react negatively to you calling that content out they probably aren’t the perfect coach for you.
- Another way to look into this is to identify if they repress or accept negative emotions. Do they only post about the positives or do they talk about the hard work it takes to make change? The realistic timeline of how long the process will take? Are they selling something that feels “too good to be true”? If so, really evaluate their content and make sure you aren’t getting conned.
- Red Flag warning: If they say things like “only focus on the positives” or “invest in you even if it doesn’t make sense”
- These are on the nose toxic positivity and sales tactics. The first one is classic toxic positivity. It’s like the meme of the dog in the burning building. You cannot IGNORE the negatives to make them go away. Think of your triggers and feelings like a mosquito in your bedroom. You cannot ignore it away. You either kill it, lose your mind or open a window and pray it leaves. You have to take action, usually, if you want it to go.
- The second one is garbage. Asking someone to invest in themselves – even when it doesn’t make sense makes absolutely 0 sense! (I know this because I have fallen for this line). The whole sentence is nonsense and I see it EVERYWHERE. The honest and less sexy version should be “investing in yourself makes sense if you want to grow quickly and you have the financial stability to invest” but in the end the choice is up to you. YOU CAN STILL GROW WITHOUT SPENDING MONEY – it just depends on who you are, what resources you can access and how you learn.
My “Professional” Opinion
As a coach OF COURSE I want people to buy what I’m selling but I never want people to feel dependent on me to make change or that my 1×1’s or programs are their only options. Your change comes from within you – it’s all about how you work on yourself and what works for you. You do not NEED me to make change in your life, in fact even if you hire me you still have to do the work, I just help make things easier and more manageable! I’m here to help and I promise not to lie to you – even if the lie would be good for my sales!