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29 Sep 2014

Workplace Positivity as Weapon of Retaliation

Workplace positivity has negative side-effects. They show up when employees try to discredit internal competitors in office politics. Employees do this by labeling them as doubters, questioners and dissenters. In other words, they’re “negative.”

Soviet-style communism shows how this is done very well. For instance, after Stalin would speak, those who did not clap as long as others sometimes became targets. Such behavior isn’t as positive as it should be. Thus, positivity becomes a weapon by which to get rid of those who might threaten their careers or advancement.

Positivity as Weapon in Soviet-style Movies

We often do not know the down sides of workplace positivity.

Workplace positivity has negative side effects.

The Soviet movie, Alexander Nevsky, is a great example. It’s a 1938 drama telling of the invasion of Russia by the Teutonic Knights. The hero, Prince Alexander, displays absolute, unwavering positivity in the face of the knights even though they vastly outnumbered him.

Those who question or doubt him, or the cause, are shown as weak, almost traitorous. They were thinking negatively.

In another example, consider the documentary, The Unknown War. In a cooperative effort, the Soviet Union and the United States made the movie. Its purpose was to educate the Western public on the Soviet’s people’s feats in defeating Nazi Germany.

The documentary always positively framed victories as Soviet successes, never as Nazi mistakes. Their success in saving Moscow is a prime example.

The film made no mention of Hitler’s ill-timed mistake of diverting forces from there to Stalingrad. Positivity encourages erroneous attribution of causes. It promotes Pollyannaism.

Contrasting Soviet and American Heroes

In American movies, we get a very different view of heroes. They are allowed to doubt and question. Movies such as as Rocky, Star Wars and even Safe are good examples.

In Safe an ultra-confident character, Luke Wright, confides his fear to a young girl. Such confessions do not exist in Soviet-style movies. They show these confessions as being weak, being uncommitted to the effort.

Workplace Positivity as Weapon in Office Politics

Dissent and conflict can bring out the best in organizations. They do require effective, wise management though. However, where it’s managed inside a culture of Soviet-styled positivity, it’s a weapon in office politics. Most often employees will try to tag the “negative” label on employees they see as threats.

In this way, the questioners, dissenters and doubters create advancement opportunities for those who can successfully stigmatize them as negative. Thus, just as any invention can be used for good or ill, the same is true for being positive.

Similarly, the bright side of workplace positivity is that it can be a tool to promote hope, confidence and betterment. Of course, the dark side is as we’ve already seen above, a weapon in office politics. Employees can use it to undermine those competing with them for promotions, status, money and recognition.

To prevent this though takes an enlightened organizational culture and leadership team to ensure this weapon is not effective. Otherwise, they will become victims and users of this weapon.


6 Responses

  1. Exactly! Great post Mike.

    I’ve shared this video with you on another post before, however, it’s been a couple of years so this is the perfect time to resurrect it since it harmonizes with your own post. It’s the one called Smile or Die.


    In this presentation, Barbara Ehrenreich, mentions an example here in the United States, about the financial meltdown we experienced as a country in 2007. Part of it happened has been directly tied to this ‘positive thinking’ philosophy that has permeated our corporate culture. People who TRIED to point out problems in advance were FIRED! Then the mortgage collapse happened.

    This is happening CHRONICALLY in our culture and now we have people who BLINDLY accept this half-truth philosophy as FACT and TRUTH, which completely DEFIES the reality of MILLIONS of people living in this country!

    I don’t have a problem with people trying to find the bright side or the good in the world etc. I have a problem with flat out lies and denial that is only serving to set up the complete downfall of our country.

    Those of us who understand this ‘positive thinking’ movement is little more than Propaganda to justify selfish greed and shut down anyone else that is being negatively impacted by government and corporate decisions are doing our best to speak up in the face of it.

    Yet its proving to be a great challenge since many people don’t investigate. People blindly accept something they agree with as 100% FACT and no other thinking or common sense is required.

    I’ve joked about this more then once here and there, although in reality, it’s not very funny. I’ve said that if Apollo 13 happened today… just as soon as they say, ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ Houston would more then likely respond with this instead:

    ‘You’re being too negative.’
    ‘How do you KNOW that you are really seeing gas? What if it’s your imagination?’
    ‘Wicked shimmy? Toughen up! We make great stuff! It’ll hold!’
    ‘No, you don’t have a problem Apollo. The way you are THINKING about it IS the problem!’
    ‘Apollo, don’t look outside and you won’t see the gas anymore. That will solve your problem.’
    ‘Just think good thoughts Apollo. And it will all work out for the best!’
    ‘Just listen to some Johnny Cash and that will set things right!’
    ‘What do you want US to do about it? It’s not our problem, it’s yours!’

    You get the picture. 😉

    For some of this, this IS what living in America has been like for the most part.

    1. The REALITY of any situation or encounter must be considered (http://johncbennettjr.com ) and discussed subsequently with others first, foremost, honestly, and early-on. Then, as long as the actual nature of the situation or encounter is not sacrificed or ignored, of course seeking the best possible outcome with positive energy makes great sense.

      For realworld situations or encounters, there is of course the correct solution; it’s just that it is unknown and we humans couldn’t attain it even if it were known. It’s the best possible outcome we can seek, hoping it’s useful in dealing with the situation or encounter. The negative / pessimistic individuals have impact on efforts; the realistic individuals positively seeking the better alternative will be most impactful on the situation.

      Rambling / preaching again … Sorry.

    1. Mike Lehr

      Yes, Greg, it is a contradiction. I know a psychologist whose contract was terminated with a police department because he didn’t approve enough new candidates. I could easily see that happen to safety inspectors who don’t clear enough clients. Thank you for stopping by and leaving your question. I appreciate it. ~Mike

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