It’s tough to live a positive life around negative people.
Dealing with negativity can be quite a downer. I once had a coworker whose negative energy would wash over me on a daily basis. In our conversations, she would complain endlessly about everything – work tasks, family, friends, health, and anything else she could think of. She was also extremely cynical about others, often doubting their intentions and judging them harshly. Talking to her wasn’t a pleasant experience, to say the least.
The first time we had a meeting I felt completely drained. Even though we spoke for just 30 minutes, I barely had any energy left after our conversation. It felt as if someone had literally sucked the life out of me, and it took a couple hours for the effects to wear off. The same thing happened the next few times we spoke too. I quickly realized I needed to work out an action plan to deal with this kind of negative energy. After all, she was not going to be the only negative person I was going to encounter in my life.
I gradually developed several key strategies for dealing with negative people effectively. They have worked wonders in my own life, and now Marc and I use them to assist hundreds of coaching/course students we interact with on a weekly basis. I’m hoping you find value in them too…
1. Set and enforce limits.
Negative people who wallow in their problems and fail to focus on solutions are hard to deal with. They want people to join their 24/7 pity party so they can feel better about themselves. And you may feel pressured to listen to their complaints simply because you don’t want to be seen as callous or rude, but there’s a fine line between lending a compassionate ear and getting sucked into their negative emotional drama.
You can avoid this drama by setting limits and distancing yourself when necessary. Think of it this way: if a negative person were chain-smoking cigarettes, would you sit beside them all day inhaling their second-hand smoke? No, you wouldn’t – you’d distance yourself. So go ahead and give yourself some breathing room when you must.
If distancing yourself is impossible in the near-term, another great way to set limits is to ask a negative person how they intend to fix the problem they’re complaining about. Oftentimes they will either quiet down or redirect the conversation in a more harmonious direction, at least temporarily.
2. Respond mindfully – don’t just react.
A reaction is a hot, thoughtless, in-the-moment eruption of emotion that’s usually driven by your ego (as human beings, we’re more likely to react when we’re disconnected from our logical mind). It might last just a split second before your intuition kicks in and offers some perspective, or it might take over to the point that you act on it. When you feel angry or flustered after dealing with a negative person, that’s a sign you’ve reacted rather than responded mindfully. Responding mindfully will leave you feeling like you handled things with integrity and poise.
Bottom line: when you encounter someone with a negative attitude, don’t respond by throwing insults back at them. Keep your dignity and don’t lower yourself to their level. True strength is being bold enough to walk away from the nonsense with your head held high.
3. Introduce lighter topics of discussion.
Some people’s negative attitudes are triggered by specific, seemingly harmless topics. For example, one of my friends turns into a very toxic self-victimizer whenever we talk about her job. No matter what I say, she’ll complain about everything related to her job, and when I try to interject with positive comments, she just rolls right over them with more negativity. Obviously this becomes quite a conversation dampener.
If you find yourself in a similar conversational situation, and the person you’re talking with is stuck on a topic that’s bringing you down, realize their negative emotions may be too deeply rooted to address in a one-off conversation. Your best bet is to introduce a new topic to lighten the mood. Simple things like funny memories, mutual friendships, personal success stories, and other kinds of happy news make for light conversation. Keep it to areas the person feels positive about.
4. Focus on solutions, not problems.
Where and how you focus your attention determines your emotional state. When you zero in on the problems you’re facing, you create and prolong negative emotions and stress. When you shift your focus toward actions that can improve your circumstances, you create a sense of self-efficacy that yields positive emotions and reduces stress.
The same exact principle applies when dealing with negative people – fixating on how stressful and difficult they are only intensifies your suffering by giving them power over you. Stop thinking about how troubling this person is, and focus instead on how you’re going to go about handling their behavior in a positive way. This makes you more effective by putting you in the driver’s seat, and it will greatly reduce the amount of stress you experience when you’re interacting with them. (Read Loving What Is.)
5. Maintain a level of emotional detachment from other people’s opinions of you.
Maintaining a level of emotional detachment is vital for keeping stress at a distance. Not allowing negative people (or anyone for that matter) to put the weight of their inadequacies on your back is vital to your emotional health and happiness. It all comes down to how you value yourself, and thus believe in yourself.
People who manage their lives effectively are generally those who work internally – i.e. those who know that success and well-being comes from within (internal locus of control). Negative people generally work externally – i.e. blame others or outside events for everything that does or doesn’t happen (external locus of control).
When your sense of satisfaction and self-worth are derived from the opinions of others, you are no longer in control of your own happiness. Know this. When emotionally strong people feel good about something they’ve done, they don’t let anyone’s shallow opinions or spiteful remarks take that away from them.
Truth be told, you’re never as good as everyone says when you win, and you’re never as terrible as they tell you when you lose. The important thing is what you’ve learned, and what you’re doing with it.
6. Let go of the desire to change other people’s negative tendencies.
Some people you can help by setting a good example, others you can’t. Recognize the difference and it’ll help maintain your equilibrium. Don’t be taken in by the energy vampires, manipulators and emotional blackmailers by desperately trying to control what is out of your control – other people’s behavior.
With that said, if there’s a specific behavior someone you love has that you’re hoping changes over time, it probably won’t. If you really need them to change for some substantial reason, be honest and put all the cards on the table so this person knows how you feel and why.
For the most part though, you can’t change people and you shouldn’t try. Either you accept who they are or you choose to live without them. It might sound a bit harsh, but it’s not. When you try to change people, they often resist and remain the same… but when you don’t try to change them – when you support them and allow them the autonomy to be as they are – they gradually change in the most miraculous way. Because what really changes is the way you see them.
7. Dedicate ample time every day to self-care.
You do not have to neglect yourself just because others do. Seriously, if you’re forced to live or work with a negative person, then make sure you get enough alone time to rest and recuperate. Having to play the role of a ‘focused, rational adult’ in the face of persistent negativity can be exhausting, and if you’re not careful, the negativity can consume you.
Negative people can keep you up at night as you constantly question yourself:
- “Am I doing the right thing?”
- “Am I really so terrible that they speak to me like that?”
- “I can’t BELIEVE he did that!”
- “I’m so hurt!”
Thoughts like these can keep you agonizing for weeks, months, or even years. Sadly, sometimes this is the goal of a negative person – to drive you crazy and bring you down to their level of thinking, so they’re not wallowing alone. And since you can’t control what they do, it’s important to take care of yourself so you can remain centered, feeling healthy and ready to live positively in the face of their negativity when you must. (Marc and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
Although it can be hard to admit, sometimes the negative person is YOU. Sometimes it’s your own negativity that hurts you more than anything else.
If your inner critic is trying it’s hardest to get the best of you, try giving up all the thoughts and contemplations that make you feel bad, or even just some of them, for the rest of the day. See how doing that changes your life. You don’t need these negative thoughts. All they have ever given you is a false self that suffers for no reason.
Do you have a personal story you’d like to share about dealing with negative people? What helps you stay positive when negativity surrounds you? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights.
Photo by: ernagotyar