‘It’s not all sunshine and rainbows,’ but there are ways to stay positive

Five tips – plus a dose of silence – can help fire service leaders stay focused on the positive

What’s the difference between being positive and not being negative? Silence!

The lesson in silence is that not every proclamation from the masses needs a response. Silence CAN actually be “the last word” on the matter.

Mind you that I am not suggesting that in embracing the “statement” of silence, unfettered falsehoods or ramblings should be allowed to rule the roost. What I am suggesting is that we should focus on accuracy and positivity. In that, sometimes the benefits of silence outweigh the urge to be heard.

According to Bashoor,
According to Bashoor, "The challenge is finding the mental courage and emotional intelligence to stay positive in the sea of negativity that swirls around you." (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Do you have the emotional intelligence to restrain that urge?

Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle proclaimed, “Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power and is not easy.”

In other words, the challenge is finding the mental courage and emotional intelligence to stay positive in the sea of negativity that swirls around you

Many in our ranks (not just the fire service, but humanity in general) have the desire, and in some cases feel the need, to have the last word. Unfortunately, that’s usually that angry person – you know, that guy who’s constantly stirring the pot and seeing negativity in everything.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that occasionally violated my own guidance, but that’s part of the point here. We should be learning from our mistakes and helping each other move forward. Yes, most of us have at some point felt that urge to get the last word. The balance I suggest here is simply to not allow this to become an overriding concern of your psyche.

“It’s not all sunshine and rainbows”

Lately I’ve been using the phrase, “It’s not all sunshine and rainbows,” which could be construed as a negative comment. I’m not intentionally being negative; rather, what I hope people hear is the reality check of sorts. The phrase acknowledges that life isn’t perfect; there are always issues to overcome.

Some context: A city manager recently asked for advice related to establishing a fire department. I told him that the first thing to remember is that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and that the fire service is really “sexy” until you have to pay for it. The simple reality check makes no attempt to have the last word or be negative but rather frames the ongoing discussion in practicality. Future discussions will focus on the most cost-effective path forward, with the understanding there will be hurdles.

Why do people have to be so negative?

This question commonly echoes through leadership classes and discussions across the country. Is it because “they” are not in control? Is it because someone is finally holding “them” accountable? Is it because someone is trying to change something? Regardless of the reason, let’s make it our mission to rise above the fray and be products of positivity.

With this in mind, here are five ways to get your message across and keep things positive in the process:

1. Strive for informed perfection

We operate in a highly regulated environment. Is it really that hard to do the right things? Recognizing that “right” can be in the eye of the beholder, there are certain “rights” that cannot be ignored, like SCBA use regulations and seatbelt wearing. While the application of flow path management and studies of atmospheric survivability could be debated all day long at the firehouse kitchen table, we need to make sure our people are reading the scene and making informed decisions. Do it right the first time and every time, and it will be hard to find fault.

2. “Just the facts, ma’am”

Provide the pure and unadulterated facts whenever possible. (And yes, HIPAA and other legal challenges may prevent you from revealing details in some circumstances.) For the sake of a long and relevant career, you should be concerned with establishing a reputation for dependability, honesty and forthrightness.

3. Avoid embellishments

“Lots of people have been hired” is a vague statement and out of context, potentially misleading. For example, “It only took a couple of minutes for us to respond to the scene.” “Couple” is a synonym for “two.” When the CAD report says it took you nine minutes to get to the scene, “a couple” is surely a stretch!

Embellishments, especially those that can be challenged, become unnecessary distractions from your message. I’ll support you sharing pertinent facts all day long. Let’s just make sure they all legitimate.

4. Avoid inflammatory words, language and patterns

Curse words drive inflammation, as do phrases such as, “As we’ve told you many times …,” “if you would have listened the first or second time …,” “With all due respect …,” “Not that you believe us, but ….” Choose phrasing that accentuates the positive path forward, instead of focusing on past perceptions of failure. Will bringing in past inaccuracies or mistakes really make a positive difference? It is OK to use strong language and creative phrasing when getting a certain point across is essential, but I’ll submit that what constitutes essential is likely not nearly as much as we think.

5. Purge negative influences

While this is easier said than done, there’s a lot to be said about surrounding yourself with positive people and leading a positive life. Maybe it’s the network news, maybe it’s a toxic work, play or family culture. Whatever the root of the negativity, you should strive to distance yourself from its influence. Find those activities that release the endorphins that affect mood and pain because let’s face it, the better you feel, the more positive you can be.

Slow and steady …

In striving to fulfill the five tips above, self-help books tell us to “take it slow” – solid advice in a non-emergency situation. Slowing the pace allows the mind to calm down and enhances informed decision-making.

We can extrapolate the skills of yoga and breathing techniques to create the same sense of calm in emergency situations. But not everything is an emergency, and not everything is negative. Take a deep breath, focus on getting where you need to be, shut your mouth, and get it done – and oh yeah, back away from the keyboard (BAFTK)!

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