Leading psychological research has found that besides stress management and emotional intelligence, the quality of our relationships is key for happiness.
Therefore, in our opening questions we should look both for the social versus solitaire aspect AND the negative versus positive quality of such social contact.
Humans are supremely social creatures. Evidence of our social nature is all around us. That’s why we fall in love, have pets and makes solitary confinement one of the most severe punishments in a modern society.
Therefore, we deeply need to interact with other people. But not every person which interact with us share our opinions and world views. And there is this kind of person that view everything negatively.
It can be excruciatingly difficult to deal with negative people—people who bring your mood down with their pessimism, anxiety and distrust about anything and everything. Imagine being discouraged all the time about pursuing your dreams, or trying a new sport because “it’s too risky” or “people will envy you and try to take advantage of your success, in the remote case you achieve it!”. Likewise, imagine being routinely exposed to negative judgments about other people (e.g., “I can’t believe you told our neighbors that you failed your driving test—now they’ll never respect you!”)
Constant exposure to such negativity can make deep inroads into your bank of positivity, leading you to either become negative—diffident, anxious, and distrustful—yourself, or to become indifferent, uncaring, or even mean towards the negative person.
So how does one deal with negative people?
The obvious solution, which is walk away from them, it’s not always possible or practical. You can shift lines in the supermarket to avoid the grumpy cashier or ignore the bossy flight attendant. But definitively our sibblings, parents, even spouses, colleagues and friends could not receive the same treatment.
The following are 3 recommendations to deal with negative people we care about.
1. Understand the source of their negativity: negativity comes from fear. And most negativities come from 3 basic fears: fear of not being loved by others, fear to being disrespected by others and fear that “bad things are going to happen.” These fears feed off each other to fuel the believe that “the world is full of mean people” and “the world is a very dangerous place.”
It’s important to understand the origin of someone’s negativity to avoid the trap of “trying to help him or her” by being compliant to their demands. By such compliance, you could be building a Frankenstein that will going back against you any minute. Because these fears make people increasingly demanding. And the only cure is for the individual to discovered them and treat them with professional support.
2. Demonstrate compassion for the negative person: this element involves kind behaviors from you such rarely, if ever, complain about the other’s person negativity. Never lecture them or try to fix them or provide advice. Feedback is an art and most people don’t appreciate critiques, especially negative people. Instead protect yourself if the negativity is taking a high toll from you, by distancing yourself at least for a brief period. Sometimes this acts as a trigger in the negative person, helping him or her to be aware of his/her negativity effects.
And… remember to prepare a suitable explanation for your distancing that won’t hurt the negative person feelings!
3. Be responsible for your own positivism: The trick is to act, as far as possible, like a person who is fully secure. That is, act like someone who is respected and loved by others, and in control of the important aspects of their life. This means: do not let the other’s negativity curtail your natural inclination to pursue your dreams, take healthy risks, and trust others. However, do not take such actions to spite the negative person or to prove a point; rather, tap into the space of authenticity from which it seems natural to behave in a spontaneous, positive, and trusting manner. Then, when the negative person makes the skeptical or cynical comment—as he or she inevitably will—take the time to calmly explain why you chose to act as you did.
Positivism is contagious; however, it does take time to outgrow negativism. But being positive feels so good that, hopefully the negative person will like to increase his or her positive moments. We must persevere on being positive for our own well-being and the people around us. Also, the fact that dealing with negative people is hard for oneself, it’s because we probably need to eradicate some negativism from us. This thought makes the task of dealing with negative people even more important and rewarding.