the burden of positivity

the burden of positivity

Let’s not pretend like we don’t bitch about our jobs. We are pros at finding fault with our managers, our projects, our flaky test suites. We all wish something could be better. At LinkedIn, people complained about the free (and objectively very good) food, which management loved because it implied people weren’t complaining about elements of the actual job.

As humans, we’re really good at being negative, because it’s the easiest thing to do. Our brains are hard-wired to focus on the bad (just Google negativity bias). But we are not our thousands-year-old ancestors who needed this predisposition to keep them alive.

As a recovering Negative Nancy, the hardest part for me becoming a manager was shouldering the burden of positivity. I used to love complaining. I whined about edge cases that weren’t in the spec, product requirements constantly changing, working on things that weren’t fun and interesting. I whined because I didn't think twice about how it would affect people around me, and that it wasn't my job to fix anything.

But now as a manager, it is my job. Now that I am responsible for my team’s morale and output, I am starkly aware of how detrimental a sour mood can be, as well as how invigorating a positive attitude is. Now, I emanate Ted Lasso exuberance as much as genuinely possible. Luckily for my team, we don't have anyone like my old, cynical self, but we also operate with positive principles.

  • Be a team player. Being someone others want to work with is a non-negotiable aspect of a direct report’s performance. People don’t want to be around constant negativity.
  • Focus on the solution, not the problem. In retros, everyone is more than welcome to add to the “bad” column, but we don’t leave without an action item attached to each one.
  • Be here because you want to be. Our jobs are all at-will employment – why wouldn't you want to enjoy your workplace?

This doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to feel sad or frustrated. Feeling these emotions is part of processing tough situations; but there is a lot of room between raging cynicism and pragmatic positivity.

And sometimes we really do just need to commiserate with a coworker; when I do so, I try to preface it with “I’m just venting, I’m not expecting any action from you”, as to reduce the drain of positive energy.