“Good vibes only”. How about you learn how to cope?!

I was at LLEWT last week, a peer conference on Anglesey, north Wales, where the theme was: communication. My report, “Why don’t you listen to what I say” was chosen by the content moderator. I’ll write about that topic on a separate occasion, because right now I feel like ranting about something that came up during the discussion portion.

The rant will be about how much I dislike working with “good vibes only” people. These people are the embodiment of toxic positivity, and they effectively stopped me from doing my job well.

“Good vibes only”-people ironically create a hostile environment to work in if your role is concerned with keeping things realistic, meaning you aren’t always able to deliver positive news. These people also tone-police like crazy, so if you’re slightly grumpy or sarcastic by nature (hi!) you will clash with them regularly.

This rant will absolutely be biased and will not be pleasant to read if you subscribe to the good vibes only notion.

What is good vibes only in a work context, according to me?

  • strongly preferring to keep things positive when it comes to communicating about work and caring a lot about how those communications happen.
  • reacting negatively when other people say something that can be construed as negative, be it the message itself (bad news) or how the message was delivered (tone of voice, body language, intensity of talking), and not seeing how ironic it is to tone-police (these are not good vibes!)

To me, it feels like good vibes only people know that the world isn’t good vibes only, but they prefer to pretend that it is by policing the tone of others, so they can try to force a certain style of communication within the team. They prefer to live within a context of “positive communication”, even if the message itself isn’t exactly positive.

It’s fine to prefer a certain style of communicating and vibes, but projecting that onto others is where I draw the line.

Not everyone is a glass is half full person. I certainly am not, and I know I’m not alone.

I’m sarcastic, grumpy, cynical. On top of that, I’m a software tester. It’s my role to be extremely realistic about how things are going.

When confronted by “good vibes only”-people in my team (often the UX’ers, Designers, PO’s or Scrum Masters…. Coincidence??), I have on occasion clashed hard with them.

One of those people actively told me off in team meetings for “being negative” whenever I talked about risks or bugs in our product, and it made me feel so angry. It felt like my role as tester was denied, my contribution to the team was denied because the way I talked about things didn’t fit this person’s preferred style.

The thing is, they misunderstand me! I’m not negative! I’m simply passionate about making software better. I love bugs, I love risks. I love them in the sense that they are very important clues about what we can do to improve our software! But because my preferred style of communicating is sarcastic humor, some people think that I’m negative.

Honestly, I don’t see how I can be positive as a tester. I can only be realistic. I sure as shit am not going to go out of my way to sugarcoat messages just because people don’t want to hear them. I’ll accept that I can make efforts to come across as less sarcastic, but that’s about it.

If there’s one thing I learned during my career so far is that you cannot please everyone. Some people loved my sarcasm, and they saw it for what it was: it is simply another flavor of coping, just like “good vibes only” is also a coping mechanism.

If we could just let each other be and stop policing tone, that would be great. I’ll let you be the crazy positive person, you let me be the sarcastic grump. Both perspectives could actually complement each other. We have the same goal here: try to make the product better.

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