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There’s no simple answer when it comes to learning how to deal with negative people. You no doubt can relate to exchanges like these:
“Let’s get away for the weekend!”
“But then, how will we get the grocery shopping done?”
“I’ve applied to medical school!”
“With your grades?”
“Why would you want to bring a new life into this world?”
It can be incredibly draining to deal with negative people. Whether you’re living with a negative person, have negative friends or family members, or are dealing with negative or pessimistic people in the workplace, it may seem inevitable that their attitudes will rub off on you. The truth is, that doesn’t have to be the case. The next time you’re wondering how to deal with negative people, keep the strategies below in mind.
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Our author, an award-winning journalist specializing in health, lifestyle, and medicine, wrote the forthcoming University Health News book Positive Thinking. Available in 2019, the special report covers the benefits of a positive attitude, how to remain positive, and such traits as self-esteem, self-control, gratitude, forgiveness, and how to cope with change.
1. Recognize that it’s okay to walk away.
This is first on the list because it’s often the last thing people consider. You don’t owe it to anyone to listen to him or her complain or throw a wet blanket over your good mood.
While you may be unwilling or unable to cut ties with close family members or coworkers, there are probably a lot of negative people you can eliminate from your life. Find it exhausting listening to your hairdresser complain about her ex? Find another hairdresser. Sick of having coffee with your downer of a neighbor? Find a reason to no longer be available when she is.
If you’re the boss and an employee is negative all the time, recognize that it’s likely having an impact on the entire work environment—and may be affecting productivity and company morale. Treat it like any other failure to meet job requirements: Provide warnings, ask for concrete change, and terminate if those changes are not made.
2. Try to understand what causes a person’s negativity.
When the negative person is someone you really care about and need in your life, like a childhood friend or loving spouse, you might be able to tolerate their negativity more if you come to understand where it’s coming from.
Most people a who are negative or pessimistic are fundamentally afraid and insecure. They believe external forces that they cannot control are responsible for their well-being and that they can be happy only if others treat them a certain way or if events turn out the way they want them to.
Feeling like your happiness is in the hands of others or simply a matter of luck is a scary place to live and can result in negative lashing out in a vain effort to obtain control or protect against disappointment.
3. Provide support.
The flip side of negativity? Positivity. Read about the benefits of a positive approach in our post “The Power of Positive Thinking.”
Once you understand the sources of your loved one’s insecurity, you might be able to help. Try providing lots of positive feedback and reassurance about your love and respect for them and your commitment to the relationship. You might help them see the sources of their negativity and ways they can turn things around.
Try a simple technique called “appreciative inquiry” in which you ask questions that focus on the positive. So, if your negative friend is complaining about a someone in his life, you can ask, “But what do you like about that person?” You may even suggest therapy as a way of helping him learn to be more positive about life.
4. Accept what is: Many people do not want to change.
If that’s the case, you need to accept that this is the way he or she is and decide from there how much you want or need that person in your life.
5. Enlist the help of a third party.
This is a particularly helpful strategy when you do not have a close or intimate relationship with the negative person, such with as a coworker. Find an impartial third party—a mutual friend, your employer, a member of the clergy, a counselor— who can help address the issues at hand in a supportive, nonconfrontational manner.
6. Cultivate boundaries.
A negative person does not have an accurate view of you or the world. This is not the person to go to for advice or feedback.
In fact, that person’s pessimism is not really about you at all; rather, it has its roots in deep-seated insecurity. Trying to analyze a negative person’s words or actions or trying to be good enough to “deserve” a positive response is a waste of your time. Let the negative comments wash over you like a wave. Imagine that you are safe inside your own impenetrable bubble.
7. Be the grownup.
Regardless of your respective ages, it can be helpful to think of yourself as the grownup and the negative person as the toddler. If negative people need reassurance, give it to them. If they need to be “right,” let them be right. If they need the last word, they can have it. Say what you need to say to keep the tantrums at bay and don’t take any ranting personally.
8. Cultivate positivity.
Like attracts like. There is nothing a negative person finds more frustrating than someone who refuses to put down their rose-colored glasses. Built a network of positive people in your personal and professional life so you can surround yourself with the positive energy you need to flourish.