When Being Kind Gets Complicated

Kindness is complicated, especially in the workplace. We often try to avoid confrontations and clashes. This gentler approach is often seen as a kindness, both to oneself and to others, but it is harmful in its own way.

Shrugging off concerns because dealing with them causes stress. Avoiding holding people accountable for the work they are meant to be doing because it can cause tension in the workspace. Complimenting people on their work when they are struggling to keep up or are underperforming.

All of these are examples of toxic positivity, not kindness; and it is more harmful than helpful.

Toxic positivity ignores the problem at hand, it ignores consequences, downplays concerns, and makes other people’s views and perspectives seem less important.

  • What if this person’s fears and concerns are valid?
  • What if this situation repeats itself?
  • What if this happens again and I’m not around?
  • How will other people handle this problem when I have dismissed it?
  • What happens when the problem becomes too big to ignore?

Toxic positivity can also be demeaning – if someone brings a problem forward and you handwave it, what message does that send? That your perspective and opinion means more than theirs, and that their perspective is meaningless.

When we demean people in the workplace, their productivity decreases, they don’t ‘pitch up’, they follow instructions to the letter but they don’t actually listen – and these all create further issues.

The largest of toxic positivity’s negative impacts is on accountability.

When someone brings forward a concern, and we ignore it, not only do we make things more complicated for others when things do inevitably go wrong, we have also denied ourselves a leg to stand on when asking for accountability.

It is important to get to know our employees and colleagues, because it means you can more easily level with one another; you will know how they work, what their strengths and weaknesses are, how to properly brief them, how to hand work over to them, and how to prepare them for any issues they may encounter. Covering all your bases both in the moment and ahead of time means work won’t bounce back to you – and the last thing anyone needs is for work to bounce back and forth between employer and employee.

When you hand work off to someone, it is all well and good to tell them that they are accepting responsibility for its completion, but as an employer/manager, you are the one who gave them the work; whether or not it gets done on time and up to the expected standard is a responsibility you share.

As employers, managers and/or team leaders, we need to show the care to help the employee in question get their work done – this doesn’t mean doing their work for them (because then they would never learn how to do their job; yet another example of toxic positivity), it means paying attention to their concerns, and being there to support them in getting their work done.

All this is to say that toxic positivity is actually a form of avoidance. Dealing with small, manageable problems might not seem worth the time and energy, but when they blow up, the consequences could be severe and far-reaching.

Have the difficult conversations sooner rather than later, listen to your employees, get to the guts of each problem as it arises and support your employees in completing their work.