How to Deal with Negative People

Negativity is all around us; negative experiences, negative relationships, negative jobs, and negative perspectives. The carrier of negativity is people. We all know more than one negative person that is a part of our life.  Perhaps it is a negative person at work, a family member, or even a spouse. Negative people skew perspective!  

There are a number of negative people in my life. These negative people may be a part of my family or my work. Regardless of the context these negative people reside in, I have had to learn to deal with them. I want to share with you several ways I have dealt with them over the years.

Negative People at Work

Who hasn’t had to put up with a negative person at work? If you’re out there, please let us know and help find the unicorn of all jobs!! At first, I thought perhaps a person who was a sole proprietor might be able to raise their hand but then again, they too must deal with negative customers. If they happen to be a negative person, they have to deal with themselves.

So, we all have to deal with negative people at work. They may be the person who says ‘no’ to everything.  They be the person who is uniquely qualified to find the one and only reason why something cannot be done. They may be the person who expresses to the group how an idea will not work. They may be the person who spreads negativity in the group. It could be actual negative words or simply an aura of negativity.

In past years I would do my best to ignore these kinds of people. This is a strategy that does not work long term and didn’t work for me at all.  Ignoring the negativity but engaging with the person put me in a position of having to stuff the emotion brought on by the negativity. Eventually, these stuffed emotions came out, usually with food.

Quick regression: I was teaching a seminar about healthy choices and some of the unhealthy ways people tend to cope with negative circumstances.  I told a story about learning how to eat potato chip sandwiches from my mom (I thought was endearing). Unbeknownst to me there was a mom and son in the audience who apparently did not have a good relationship.  The mother yelled out, ‘It’s always the mom’s fault!”.  I don’t eat as many potato chip sandwiches these days as I have learned some healthier ways to deal with stress regardless of the source.

There are a few simply ways to deal with negative people at work but they all require some effort on your part. First, when the person is spreading negativity about another person, the easiest way to deal with this is to say something like, “I bet that [issue] must be difficult. I bet [person] would be happy to talk with you about it so you could work things out”. What if the person is the negative Nate/Nancy (No disrespect to the Nates or Nancy’s of the world) of the group? Here is an opportunity for you to engage them in more positive conversation. For example, you could say something like, “I am interested to know more about why you think this isn’t a good idea. Would you share more with me?” or “I am interested to know more about why you’re not on board with this project. Would you help me understand what is getting in the way for you?”. Of course, there are also times when you have to be candid with a person (typically in private). I love Kim Scott’s concepts on Radical Candor. When we can’t be candid with the people we are working with we do them, ourselves, and our organization a disservice.

Negative People in Your Family

Dealing with negative people in your family can be a little more difficult but may come with an opportunity to positively enhance the family culture. The difficulty increases the closer the negative person is to you. A negative sibling, parent, or spouse can be incredibly difficult to deal with. Often, the love we have this person gets in the way of a desire to deal appropriately with the negativity we feel when around them. In a sense, however, the ability to learn radical candor with family members is equally important. Otherwise, you may find yourself stuffing emotions and potato chip sandwiches. 

In some ways, I have dealt with negative family members in very similar ways to dealing with negative people at work. Essentially, the strategy as stated earlier is to re-direct the conversation back to their responsibility given the complaint. Other times, however, it is important to let a family know you disagree with them but can do so and still care for them a great deal. Sometimes, people with a fixed mindset have trouble distinguishing between being loved and acceptance of their negativity.

Let’s say a close family member’s conversation is primarily focused toward what is wrong…with anything and everything.  As a therapist and coach, I try to steer people away from this type of categorizing (always/never) but the truth is some people do indeed live in this kind of world. Every time you hear this kind of talk you leave the conversation feeling down and wonder how you can possibly have another negative conversation. You might try saying the following, “I feel sad when I hear the way you see the [the world]. How can I help you see [the world] from a more positive perspective?”  Or you might try saying, “It seems like you have a pretty negative view of [the issue].  Have you tried thinking about it from any other perspective? How can I help?”

You might also have to be very candid with your loved one and tell them you love them and want to have a positive relationship with them but cannot discuss a particular topic with them anymore unless they are willing to conceded multiple viewpoints on the issue.

What are some strategies you have used to deal with negative people in your life? Head over to our Facebook page or leave a comment below to keep the conversation going.

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