The Theory of Relentless Positivity

I can’t take credit for the invention of this theory. The credit goes to Professor Cheyney Ryan, who I worked with to organize several events and eventually worked with as a graduate teaching fellow (GTF). The theory of relentless positivity was originally conveyed in the context of event planning and working across departments for organizing and collaboration. But I’ve applied it since in almost everything I’ve done, from group projects to job interviews.

Even with grey skies, there are signs of spring. (Connemara, in western Ireland. March, 2013)

Here it is: be relentlessly positive.

Focus on solutions, not problems. Approach people with the expectation that they will be interested and anxious to participate. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. In conflict situations, assume that everyone is acting from an honest place of hurt and arrives with a genuine desire to fix the situation. Whenever asked how things are going, always tell the truth in the most positive light.

Now this sounds kind of naïve when written this way. The theory of relentless positivity, as I’ve applied it, is an external practice. The world sees you as competent, in control, and excited about what you’re working on. The people you approach for help feel valued and cared for. Members of your team feel that you are leading them in a good direction, and that you aren’t getting mired in details or setbacks. You make work look easy.

This is about Public Relations. It’s an attitude that will help you encounter fewer problems and receive better help.

The hidden side of relentless positivity is that you privately work to make sure that every problem is addressed and all potential snags are planned for. You make contingency plans. You have back-up emcees and ask new members of your team to send draft emails to you before they’re sent out into the world. You don’t micro manage, but you do pay attention to what could go wrong, and you get out in front of problems.

This might sound like two separate organizing strategies. But it’s not really. Let’s say your student group is putting on a speaking event. If all your publicity is upbeat and enthusiastic, you will get a good audience. If your speaker feels that you are organized and competent, they will be more comfortable and will do a better job. If the campus feels that you’ve taken care of the details and are organizing a quality event, you are more likely to receive funding or other support, from publicity to event space. This, in turn, will lead to a better audience size and more engaged participants. That’s what relentless positivity can do for you.

On the back end of all of this, you’re working really hard to manage all possible contingencies and to put out fires. You have a plan for getting the speaker from the airport, and a backup plan if that first driver’s car breaks down. You have someone lined up to introduce the speaker, and have someone prepped to do an introduction if the first person gets sick. You have checked twice that the room is reserved and the equipment will be in place. There was a mistake on the flyers and they had to be re-printed, but you caught it before the version with the wrong date was posted all over campus. You were worried about audience size, but then one of the organizers offered to announce the event to her 300 person sociology class and you convinced her to have the professor offer extra credit for attendance.

Someday I’ll write a full blog post on event organizing and strategy surrounding these kinds of plans. But for now, just think what relentless positivity can mean for your overall ability to get things done.

To be clear: you need to be honest about setbacks, at least with people who really need to know the situation. Do not lie to your team if there is a problem. The same goes with relentless positivity in your personal life. Maybe Grandma only needs to hear the good stuff that’s going on, but someone definitely should be told that among all the good stuff you’re actually struggling as well. Relentless positivity can boost your actual ability to work through problems and to overcome dark times. But there is a point at which you have to explicitly say when something is wrong.

The next time you’re planning or organizing something, give this a try. Camping trip with friends? Conflict with roommates? Trying to organize a group project? Starting an internship? Organizing a visit from your family?

Relentless positivity will make an enormous difference in how you are perceived, and in what you can accomplish in a group.

Please leave a (relentlessly positive) comment. Any experience with event organizing in this way? Other applications? Questions? Let me know!