‘Positivity pushing’–does it belong in the world of business change?

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We know it’s important to be positive during change. But… are some business professionals becoming ‘positivity pushers’? If so, individuals may feel forced to suppress their true emotions. And that’s bad news!

By Laura Handley, Change Lead at RedWizard

I was chatting with a friend the other day when she said something, well, that wasn’t positive. Gasp! The conversation was about helping people to feel positive during times of business change. And how to communicate that change in order to help them feel more positive—because no one likes a negative Nancy, right? Well, my friend took a deep breath and said STOP TRYING TO TELL PEOPLE HOW TO FEEL! Her reaction took me by surprise… but it hit home. Is that what we’re trying to do? Are we becoming business change ‘positivity pushers’?

Stop telling me how to feel!

 As change professionals, we spend a large percentage of our time looking for ways to convince people that a given change is positive. We explain what ‘good’ looks like and how we’ll take them there. We use various methods and models—which we’re told work.

Often, people who are negative are referred to as ‘blockers’ or ‘too set in their ways’. Many feel they can’t be open about their true feelings because they’ll be perceived in a negative light by the business. But it’s important to remember that anger, negativity and fear are all human emotions. The fact is, these emotions are not only natural, they’re an important part of an emotional transition which needs to take place during times of change. And it’s OK! It’s OK to feel angry or negative. It really is! In fact, it’s ok to feel a wide range of emotions and no one should dictate how a person should react. There’s no one size fits all—we’re dealing with people not machines.

Emotions like sadness, guilt, grief and anger are beacons for our values. We don’t get angry about stuff we don’t care about. We don’t feel sad or guilty about stuff we don’t care about. If we push these emotions away, we are choosing not to learn about ourselves. We are choosing to ignore our values and what is important to us. When we tell ourselves to “think positive” and to push negative or difficult emotions aside, it won’t work. It doesn’t work.

Harvard Medical School professor and psychologist Susan David

I was reminded of an article I read which encouraged readers to get rid of all the negative people in their life. Who needs them! They’ll only bring you down and ruin your perfect life. Really! That’s harsh I thought. What if they’ve lost a loved one, or are suffering from depression? Or an illness? Perhaps they just need support! Are they implying I should live in a bubble, thinking and believing that life is a fairy-tale? And anyone with problems should be tossed aside as they risk ruining my ‘perfect’ life, friend or partner? Has the world gone mad?

People should be free to feel what they want, when they want, and how they want. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that as change professionals, we’ve a responsibility to improve people’s experience and the way they feel during business change. Not only to ensure they’re well informed but also to ensure a given change doesn’t cause more stress and anxiety than necessary. That’s why we need to plan carefully, do the research required–qualitative and quantitative. Only then will we have a deep knowledge of people on an individual basis and understand how a given change might impact them personally.

What we need to be careful of is pushing positivity on people. If someone is fearful, angry or anxious, we need to understand why and allow them the freedom to express themselves openly–without judgement.

Even Star Trek’s Captain Kirk had an emotional advisor!

I believe we’re missing a vital element in the world of business change management—and that’s psychology. Perhaps it might even be the answer to failing projects! Even if many of us are emotionally intelligent, we’re not qualified psychologists. And dealing with human emotion is a HUGE responsibility. We all have a responsibility to take mental health seriously.Just telling people to be positive all the time isn’t the answer!

If you had a professional psychologist available to  your team–one who specialized in human emotions–do you think they’d add valuable insight into the way change is delivered? Would it help you focus on the human side of change? What if they could advise you on common business change questions, such as:

  • Why do certain individuals embrace change whilst for others it is their greatest fear?
  • How do you assess whether your team or an individual is at saturation point?
  • Can you build a team that embraces change?
  • How do we build a resilient, empowered change culture?

Perhaps a deeper analysis of these questions by a professional psychologist, might well change the project landscape for good!

So, do you think positivity pushing has gone too far in the world of business change? 

If you found this topic of interest, you may also be interested in some of my other articles:

10 Ways to improve change in your organisation

People and change: Can inspiration unlock the desire to change?

Home working: Is it right for you?

It’s time to demand REAL flexibility in the workplace

Change management (part one): An outsider’s perspective

Change management (part two): An outsider’s perspective

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