Inspired by a comment on my post last week, “Positivity is contagious so pass it on“, I wrote this post with strategies to deal with the negative people we may come across. It could be at work or school, at home, friends, family, other loved ones, or random people on the street. One solution is to walk away. But it’s easier said than done. It’s much easier to walk away from someone we don’t know, but we can’t simply walk away from family, a significant other, coworker, or a good friend that acts negatively.
While I was studying psychology in university, I worked as a pharmacy technician. I cannot count how many times a customer screamed at the pharmacist or me because things weren’t moving fast enough and they already had to wait at the doctor’s office for hours, and just wanted to get home. It didn’t matter how many people were ahead of them. The first few times it happened I was upset. They didn’t just yell; they would also call us names. After a couple of times, I started to go into the back room and count to ten to calm down, come back out with a smile on my face and continue. It helped.
I then tried to figure out why they were yelling so I wouldn’t take it personally. I’ve sat in the doctor’s office for hours waiting, and it’s frustrating to have no control over it. Especially if you’re sick, have an appointment and the doctor is backed up. I would never treat others badly because of it, but I get the helplessness someone could feel being unwell and not being able to control their situation. They wanted to try to take control of something, and that was us. I was then able to let their attitude go.
This story leads me into the first of my tips for dealing with negative people.
Put yourself in their shoes
For every quality we have, different people will interpret it either positively or negatively. Our views come from a few things including our environment, experiences, self-esteem and the people around us.
Whether or not a person is truly negative, you are viewing them that way, so start by trying to understand why. Is it from their experiences, or something else? It can also come from fear; the fear of being disrespected, not being loved or liked, or that bad things are going to happen. There’s a reason behind their actions, and while you don’t have to like it, it’ll be easier for you if you figure out what’s going on so you can handle the situation better.
If you can’t figure it out, just remember that there’s a reason behind their behavior.
As part of this step, try to see the goodness in them instead of the bad. It may be tough initially, but once you do, it becomes second nature and some of the things that seemed negative might not be as bad as you thought.
Pick your battles
Some people that are negative don’t believe they’re the problem; it’s everyone or everything else. So, one of the most important things I learned is not to debate them. Most likely they have very strong views, and that isn’t going change just because of you. Whatever you say, they’ll find a million reasons why they’re right. The discussion will just pull you down as it continues. Try giving constructive comments, and if the person keeps going with no signs of backing down, end that discussion and move on. Sometimes I just nod my head and say “sure” and then change the subject. Even if I completely disagree, I don’t want to get dragged down.
That being said, you don’t want to let someone take advantage of you. There are arguments you’ll need to take on. You may not win, but there’s a chance of having some of your words heard, especially if you usually don’t engage in arguments with this person.
Stick to light topics
At some point in our life, there might be something that’s tough to talk about, but we talk about it without reacting badly towards others, or just say we don’t want to talk about it and move on. It could be work, money, relationships, anything. However, a touchy subject could send a negative person into a conversation that you wish you never started. If you go back to my first point, find out what’s behind their negativity, you should be able to stay away from some topics and steer the conversation to better ones.
Think of things to talk about that will put that person in a better place. For example, movies, food or cooking. I know someone who I can only talk to about food without it getting negative, so that’s all I’ll talk about. If we start drifting to a different topic that starts going downhill (because it will), I excuse myself and pretend I need to wash my hands, check a message, whatever works, and then restart the food topic when I come back.
There’s safety in numbers
All the negativity will be directed towards you if you’re in a one-on-one conversation or where it’s you with a group of like-minded negative people. Bring someone else with you, so you don’t have to bear all of it. It might seem like cruel and unusual punishment to do this to someone you like, but they can help buffer the negativity.
See if they need your help
Some people complain or pick apart others as a way of asking for help. They may not be conscious of it. A simple “Are you okay?” or “Is there anything I can do to help?” can do wonders if this is the issue behind their actions.
This technique may not work for everyone. If someone’s unhappiness is too deep, you won’t be able to address it in a one-off conversation.
Cut negativity at the core
What I mean by that is to give non-answers or simple ones to show that their negativity has little to no effect. Some people purposely try to make others feel bad so don’t give them the satisfaction. Even if they said something terrible, try not to let them see that it hurt you. It’s similar to the technique I mentioned in the section about arguments. Ignore it completely by pretending you didn’t hear it, or nod your head, or say “sure” and move to a new topic.
Tell them. If it’s family, a significant other or close friend, let them know how bad it is and work it out where possible. They may not know how they’re making you feel, and may view things differently than you do.
Counseling is useful to move past the issues.
Be the positive force
The times the person is not being negative (it may not happen often depending on the person) respond enthusiastically and encourage them to talk more. Do it every time they’re neutral or positive, so they start to recognize that certain things they say are getting people excited. It will help some people adjust their behavior.
One thing to remember is that negative people are also negative to themselves. If you feel bad around them, imagine how they feel all the time. Figure out what things they’re good at, or what you like about them (even if you have to dig to find something). Once you do that, start complimenting them on it. They may not be accepting of it at first because they don’t see it, but you’ll have planted a seed that can make them feel good. Give them the same compliment sometimes so that they continue to feel good and positivity can grow from there.
Reduce contact with them
If all else fails, reduce contact with them or avoid them altogether (if it’s someone you can avoid). It’s unhealthy to spend too much time with people who make you feel this way. Your health and time are precious, so focus on people that make you feel good. As I mentioned in my positivity posts, when you do have to spend time with them, just focus on the good things people say about you.
The level of commitment you decide to pursue to deal with a negative individual should depend on your relationship with them. The time investment should be worth the outcome. For example, if it’s a close family member or significant other, it’s worth spending time to work through some of the steps that will be effective with them. If it’s a friend, you may want to rethink your friendship, or decide how much of a chance you’ll give it. If it’s work, it may depend on how much time you spend with the person.
What are some of your tips for dealing with negative people?