When positivity can have a negative impact

Author: 
Paul Nolan

A key rule of managing remote teams in the pandemic is to keep in mind that everybody’s experience is different. Some employees may find WFH more conducive to their work habits, while others struggle with the lack of structure that the controlled environment of an office provided.

Also, as psychotherapist Laurie Sharp-Page and others emphasize, employees always bring more than their work selves to the office; WFH magnifies that. Managers will do well to keep lines of communication with every worker they supervise fluid. Overcommunicating is wise until someone says it’s OK to cut back.

Many media outlets, health service providers and other sources of information are making their COVID-19 information available free online. A valuable source of information on dealing with mental health issues during the pandemic is the News Network of the Mayo Clinic. Its COVID-19 content includes articles and podcasts on integrating work and home life as well as tips for dealing with anxiety.

Consuming tips from highly regarded sources like the Mayo Clinic can prepare managers to help workers who express feelings of anxiety or other pandemic-related problems. Rah-rah sentiments can fall far short of what your workers need. In fact, psychotherapists caution that responding to someone’s expression of distress with an unhelpful, cheerful attitude is known as dismissive
or toxic positivity.

Writing in The New York Times, Anna Goldfarb shared these tips for responding effectively when people tell you their coronavirus fears:

  • Don’t minimize others’ fears. “You have nothing to worry about,” is not effective. An empathetic response reinforces that you are aware of how they are feeling and you’re ready to help in any way you can.
  • Avoid problem-solving. Catch yourself if you’re starting a response with, “You just need to…”
  • Don’t give unsolicited advice. This is similar to problem-solving. Workers may simply be looking for someone to listen and meet them in the moment. Unless they ask for advice, hold on to yours.

If a conversation in which you listen to someone more than advise them is difficult for you, that’s a good time to step back and analyze why that is. Many managers are overly positive by nature because they feel it’s helpful to support their workers.

Be aware that support comes in different flavors.