Dealing With Negative People – Use Them As A Resource

by Dr. Rick Kirschner on September 9, 2009

NegativeRickToday, I’m blogging about what you can do to deal with negative people.  It’s a recurrent theme, because I get so much email and input about the challenge of it.  Just today, a student of mine was asking about how to deal with negative people in her class without becoming negative herself.

The trick is not to buy into it, but instead, to reframe it and make it useful to yourself.  How to make negativity useful?  It’s simple, really!

Remember, a negative person can serve two valuable functions in your life:  They can be your personal character builder, and they can serve as an early warning system when it comes to problems.

You know the character building principle from your exercise routine:  If you want to build muscle, you push against weight.  So if you want to build character, hang out with a negative person and remain positive, ( or with a gossip without gossiping, or with a pushy person without yeilding ground, etc.)  and your strength training will pay off, since adversity builds character.

Rather than trying to turn a negative person into a positive person, maintaining a positive attitude in yourself can prevent a crippling fall into the abyss. Tell yourself that you are in training for the big challenges of your life. Remind yourself that your negative person is actually on a mission to build your character, and be grateful for it.  After all, this is a challenging world.  Inner strength will be your reward for accepting the challenge, as character is an essential resource for a happy life.

And if you want to have some fun, the next time your negative person starts to overwhelm you with negativity, place your hand gently on their shoulder, look them in the eye, and say, “Thank you for the wonderful work you’re doing.”  It will probably confuse the heck out of em’, it may stop them, and at minimum you’ll probably feel better for messing with them. <grin>  Even if you can’t say it out loud, you can do these things in your imagination to great effect.

The negative person also can serve a similar function to a smoke detector or other early warning system, because if anyone can identify an incoming or potential problem before everyone else, it’s the person who is gifted at focusing on the negative. I actually know of a company that has a negative person on their executive staff. They run every new idea, every plan of action past her, asking her to critique it before they move ahead. “I’ve got this great idea, but I’m sure it’s seriously flawed. Sue, break it down!”

This is strategic, because if you ask, listen, and then dig deep enough, you will find some truth to the negative person’s concerns. Such knowledge can lead you and others to preventive action. Often the negative person is aware of substantial problems that have been overlooked. While it is true that the negative person generalizes about these problems, it may also be true that what you don’t know can hurt you far more than their negative behavior.

All people generalize on occasion, and all communications (including this sentence) are generalizations to some degree. We can stop at two or three red lights and claim all the lights in a city are red. We can meet two or three people who are in a bad mood and claim everyone is in a bad mood today. Negative people have this tendency with problems. They begin by observing details that suggest something has, is, or will go wrong, and then generalize from the details that “Everything is wrong, nothing is right, and it will never work.” That is the point where you must backtrack and clarify to get back to the specifics. The more clearly you define the problem, the more likely that you will find adequate solutions.

Not to be negative, but don’t leave a comment unless you WANT to.  (And I hope you do!)

Be well,

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