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2023 – Happy new Conflict!


Happy new year! The supposedly bright, fresh new year seems to have dragged a bucket load of the doom and gloom from the previous one (inflation, strikes, recession etc.). It's no wonder then, that there are those who will, quite understandably, want to try and reach for the positivity antidote.


For positivity to really benefit our commercial conflict discussions, it’s important that we set about using it in a considered way. There are unfortunately instances when good-old positivity can be 'toxic'.


"Toxic positivity is the act of dismissing, avoiding, or rejecting negative emotions or experiences out of hand. It may be you denying your own emotions or someone else denying your emotions, insisting on positive thinking instead."


Years ago, I had a boss who was full of toxic positivity, although I'm sure he thought he meant well. When he came into the business, in a sales department full of big characters, he put the archetypal ‘teamwork’ picture on the wall. This took the form of a group of rowers in a rowing boat all pushing and pulling their oars, in perfect unison. He saw this as an analogy for the ‘office’ where everybody should be aligned, positive and moving in the same direction.


In essence, what he was suggesting was that there should be no conflict in the perfect boat. Of course, there were members of the sales team that didn’t accept this and (sadly for him), the boss lasted about 12 months….


The thing is that life’s simply not like that, there are always tensions (and therefore conflict) even in the best of relationships, partnerships and teams – because we’re all different, with alternative thoughts, ideas and feelings on many different subjects.


This tension or conflict (provided it’s not too sustained and/or intense) can be a force for good; it can be used to foster empathy, creativity and problem solving – allowing people to reach a better outcome for all in the longer term.


Positivity can play an important part in this – it can move things forward, but it needs to be authentic.


Authentic positivity is the ability to successfully seek out, capture and use the more uplifting emotions in our real-world engagements – this might include interest, joy, amusement, enthusiasm, contentment, awe, or hope. At the same time, it’s also about being realistic and acknowledging the reality of the present situation – the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.


Real positivity is not saying, “I’m fine, they’re fine – it’s all just fine!”, while sipping green tea as the world implodes around you. It’s not about being in denial, or delusional or ignorant.


Authentic positivity sounds more like: “OK, not everything is fine; things are hard right now. Even so, I can choose how I feel about this and how I want to respond to any given situation.” It’s about finding resilience and bravery when things are less than great.


It’s also about taking personal responsibility – maybe when others are either overly pessimistic or being ‘toxic-positive’. Taking the time to consider what to say, when we say it and how to say it – reactions can have consequences.


At Savage Macbeth we wish you a very Happy New Year – and hope that all your 2023 conflicts may contain at least some authentic positivity!


Sam Macbeth, 4th January 2023



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