Curb Your Enthusiasm

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, 100 Ways to Start Smart and Stay Ahead in Your Career.

Many of us have heard about Pollyanna, the little girl who always saw a silver lining for every situation, who always found something to be glad about even in dire situations. Today, the word itself is used to refer to a person who is unusually upbeat and optimistic, perhaps overly so. There is even a concept in psychology literature called the “Pollyanna Principle” where people tend to have a bias in remembering things in the past as more positive than they actually were.

Being positive is a welcome trait in most work environments. Blind optimism and naiveté, which often tend toward denial, are not. You may personally believe that something good comes out of every situation, but your co-workers or boss might not see it that way when the team has just missed its annual revenue goal or when the contract was just awarded to another firm. Trying to point out the positives in such situations may make you appear unrealistic and immature.

Before you jump in with a favorite cliché or try to cheer people up, do a quick assessment of the moods of your colleagues and your boss. Are they open to input at this point? Is now the best time to put forth your optimistic philosophy? Are they looking for a scapegoat? Will they assume you don’t understand the significance of the situation and quickly disregard your suggestions?

It may be a better approach to hold back and look for what can be learned from a setback or missed opportunity. Analyzing what went wrong and discussing future alternatives and actions is a professional and thoughtful response. Timing your remarks is important.

Positivity and enthusiasm have their place. However, unless you temper their expression with the reality of the situation, you will be labeled the office Pollyanna, the little girl who plays “glad games.”  This image is not what you want to project if you want to be taken seriously.

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