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Gushing Positivity Isn’t Essential in HR

If a candidate walks into the room without a beaming smile, I don’t judge them. If they seem more calculating than caring, I won’t ask them to get their coat. If they talk in rational terms with little hint of emotional involvement, I won’t discount what they are saying.

Of course, being an optimistic “people person” helps greatly when your job involves other people, but I have met plenty of highly successful HR professionals who are slightly more reserved and internally focussed. They still do a great job for others, but their emotional journey happens within them rather than on their sleeve.

Just because you don’t gush with positivity, doesn’t mean you don’t care about making your difference in the world. You simply keep your feelings that little bit closer to your chest.

It is an interesting aspect of HR than many of the most valuable interactions are of a (one-on-one) personal nature. Training and development might take place in a group setting, but an individual HR professional’s biggest impact happens in those private chats with a coffee with no one else around. That is when the positive side can (and does) come out, and the more reserved HR professionals see little value in wasting their cheerleading energy when it is not able to be precisely targeted. Call me cynical, but being happy and upbeat all the time is pretty exhausting – I understand where they are coming from.

Maybe I should amend the title a little. An element of optimism and positivity is vital in HR, but having an externally cheerful demeanour is a “nice to have.”

Now, for people who know me, this might sound a little strange as I do my best to look on the bright side of life, but I just think that a constant “rah rah” from the HR cheerleaders can dull the effect of a genuine intervention when it is truly needed. Emotions can easily get in the way of rational thought and what is meant as well-meaning advice can get lost in a “go get ‘em tiger” approach. “Okay, I will, but how do I do it again?”

Having said this, I do think that a certain type of person is attracted to a career in HR. They nearly all have “soft centres” but there has to be internal steel when the tough decisions have to be made. The more experienced the individual, the more measured their external demeanour tends to be. They understand that there is a time and a place for relentless positivity, and actually there are many occasions where such an approach can simply muddy the waters.

The most valuable aspects of people are rarely constantly on show for everyone to see. It is HR’s job to dig into the psyche of their colleagues to work out how they can help them to develop. Equally, as an HR recruiter, it is my job to dig into the personalities of my HR candidates to understand what makes them tick. A smile and a cheery disposition is not high on the list of what I look for.

Some people keep their positivity inside them.

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