This past Friday I was speaking to a room of approximately 70 financial service professionals about achieving their personal greatness. I told them that the workshop should have a warning label posted on it. I cautioned that if they were more positive, energetic and passionate about their work and life, some people would not like them. Some were surprised at my warning, but most of them agreed. We live in a society that speaks about positiveness, energy and passion quite a bit, but people who have those characteristics often don't seem normal to others.
I have been told in the past that I was "out of touch," "not real," and "too positive." My first reaction to these statements was just to ignore them and dismiss the speakers as negative. However when I heard those comments from different people at different times I started to listen. What I realized was they were telling me how I was being perceived.
People saw me as a high energy, always positive and upbeat person who (they thought) couldn't see the challenges and difficulties of life and work. They experienced me as moving through life in this positive bubble while others struggled, got depressed and became angry. What they never saw or heard was my experience of the negative emotions of life.
There was a brief period that I forced myself to be less positive, less upbeat, less optimistic. I wanted people to see me as "real." But I wasn't being real to myself and I wasn't being fair to others because I was fake.
I've finally learned that I have to meet people where they are. No, that doesn't mean that I will get negative and depressed. It does mean that I have to listen and communicate that I understand their emotions rather than responding with positive affirmations and cheery outlooks.
The most difficult part for me is not trying to "fix" the person or the problem. I want to help everyone feel better about themselves and their lives and I'm finally learning that some people need to stay with negative feelings for a while before they can move on. I can't judge that, I just accept them as they are.
I'm still working on this, but I'm learning to listen carefully to people's challenges and emotions. Now I communicate what I'm hearing from them and empathize with what they say. If they want help, I will try to help them, but if they want to stay in that emotional space for a while I will let them. But when I walk away, I am as positive and upbeat as ever. I don't need to take on their emotion and negativity.
Being positive, energetic and optimistic is wonderful. But it can drive others crazy. When you encounter negativity or challenging emotions from others, listen carefully, respond with compassion and help them only if they ask for help. Meet them at their emotional level. This helps others know you are real. Later you can be your positive, energetic self. Just realize that even if you follow this strategy, there will still be people who will not think you are in touch with reality and that's why positiveness needs a warning label.