Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Conflict

Positive Ways to Deal with Negative People

I was on my way down an elevator at the Hilton in Arlington, Texas, ready to begin a seminar on how to develop more positive team relationships. I shared that ride with a man whose face bore the frown lines that evidenced a less-than-positive attitude.

He commented, “I’m not so sure about this elevator.”

“Oh? Why not?” I asked.

“It was slow getting to us, and it sounds kind of funny.”

“I’m sure we’ll make it,” I encouraged him.

“I don’t know. You never can tell about these things.”

When we arrived at the first floor, I said, “Well, we made it!”

Unimpressed, he answered, “Yeah, but the door’s not open yet.”

re there negative people in your life, at work or at home? In a recent poll I took in my email newsletter, Dr. Bev’s Mid-Week Magnetizer, I asked subscribers, “If you could change any 3 things to make your workplace more positive and productive, what would you change?” One of the most frequent responses was, “Get rid of negative attitudes!”

When your frustration tolerance is maxed out and your energy is being drained, it’s time to work on your own reactions. (That’s what you can control. You can’t give them an attitude transplant!) Take your interactions with them as an opportunity to learn how to deal with others’ negativity. Believe me, you’ll be developing skills that you’ll have to use the rest of your life. Here are four strategies for you to practice.

Don't Reward Negativity

Attention is a primary payoff of a negative attitude. Well-meaning people try to get the person to cheer up and stop being pessimistic. They give reassurance and encouragement. Recall this basic principle from your Psychology 101 class: behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated. Stay positive yourself, but don’t reward the negative, complaining behavior with too much attention.

Be Playful

With a smile, tell them your mind is restricted territory and negative talk is forbidden in your territory. Or, tell them with a twinkle in your eye that it’s much worse than they think, then proceed to exaggerate the problems to a catastrophic extreme. Be creative. A little humor sometimes interrupts the negativity.

Provide Honest Feedback

f an individual has a habit of negativity that is affecting your ability to be productive and to stay focused, you may need to provide some direct, constructive feedback. Describe the behavior, tell what problems the negative behavior is creating, request change, and tell how the change will help. Here’s an example:

“Mary, maybe you don’t realize it, but whenever someone suggests a way to improve what we do, you usually say, ‘Yes, but’…then make a negative comment about the suggestion. This is discouraging to others, and people are becoming hesitant to share ideas when you’re around. Would you consider working on this by making some positive suggestions yourself or at least not being quick to criticize the ideas of others? That way, we’ll get more good ideas on the table and people will be happier to include you in team activities.”

Encourage Productive Action

Ask them what they want and what WE can do to make that happen. Often negative people sit back while others do something, then they take potshots at those efforts. When people complain, complain, complain, ask them what they really want to happen, then try to involve them in the joint effort to make things better. (Good luck!)

A Final Thought

Before you give yourself a mental pat on the back for being a positive person, here’s a closing observation. It’s one I personally need to consider.

Positive people often can’t stand negative people. Nonjudgmental people are often judgmental about judgmental people. In other words, most people with a “positive attitude” have a negative attitude about people with a negative attitude.

Think about it.

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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