Ways to Stay Positive Around Negative People
In certain fields and with certain people, you know you are going to encounter negative people and difficult situations. Sometimes if feels like people’s temperament can start to simmer and then boil over as summer temperatures rise. Look at how people drive. How often is there someone driving aggressively? What do we do? We can pull back off the gas ourselves and give the person some distance.
In life, it seems that is the advice given largely when dealing with negative people in social settings: pull back and give them room. Let them pass.
But what if the person is unavoidable? What if they are riding your bumper or heading right for you? You are on a collision course. Do you have any resources to save yourself?
1. Be Well Rested and Stay Cool
It isn’t a surprise I thought of summer when thinking of negative people, because when people are hot and tired, they are more likely to be grouchy. Physical discomfort of any kind does it really. Negativity seems to creep up on me when I’m tired, and it takes over my children’s attitudes when they are tired. Cooperation becomes hard to come by.
I see it in my friends, too. And when you are tired, negative people and difficult situations arise and our ability to deal with them diminishes. So the best first step is to be regularly well rested and to keep yourself mentally and physically cool.
2. Take a Moment and Leave the Room Then Come Back
This actually works both with your own negative thoughts and when dealing with others. I discovered it in an article about eliminating negative thoughts, so I tried it with my child, then myself and then during a conflict with my husband. It is as if the change in scenery is a hard-wired cue to your brain to switch off the negativity.
And when in a difficult situation or dealing with difficult people, we often hear or think of the phrases “backed into a corner” and “back against a wall” and “between a rock and a hard place.” But we are not only metaphorically stuck, we are actually stuck and need to physically move out, away, and back.
We need to get physicallyun-stuck to get mentally un-cornered. So in a difficult moment, say, “let’s get coffee” or “let’s go outside” or maybe you just need to go. When you come back, things will feel less stressed.
3. Figure Out the Type of Person or Situation You are Dealing With
I would say most of my conflicts with my husband come from me wanting some sympathy and him wanting to take action. I just needed someone to agree with me for a little bit while I figured things out for myself. But I know better than to do that now because all I do is frustrate him.
When someone comes to you with their problems are they needing to vent or find sympathy? Are they looking to start a fight with you? Are they looking to you to help fix the problem? Can you actually do anything about it? Do they need someone to pep them up and get them going again? Do they need to just laugh? Are they going to just drag you into it?
This is when leaving the room and thinking helps. You don’t want to come in thinking the person needs some sympathy when you can actually do something about their situation. And you don’t want to try to pep someone up when they just need to vent.
And if they are looking for a fight, you want to pull back and give them room or maybe direct them to the nearest exit. If it is a difficult situation, can you realistically do anything about it or do you need to accept it? Is your negative person or difficult situation just a plain, old boring fact of life you can accept and walk away from? Can you accept, let go, and let the moment wash over you?
4. Three is More Than Just Company
If it is at all possible, invite another person to join you and the problematic, negative person. Having a third party around usually minimizes or eliminates the sometimes personal remarks or dwelling. It can elevate a difficult situation. It also helps you keep your distance, share responsibility in the moment, and gives you a witness the negative person can’t pretend won’t see their words and actions.
Sometimes this is enough. A third person, particularly a positive person with good energy, will change the dynamic and lend you much needed support. Just make sure you are not just teaming up against someone else out of spite or anger. Make sure you are coming from a good place.
5. Emotionally Let Go
When you are emotionally attached to the outcome, frustration can build and sabotage you. Your anger can flare. Your own negative thoughts might get a running start.
If you learn to emotionally let go by acknowledging your lack of actual power in changing a person or a situation, you free yourself up to actually see how to better the situation: you emotionally unclog your thinking. It is ironic. So by letting go, you will either gain peace or perspective, so it is a win-win.
6. Accept the Facts
I’ve seen people chase their thoughts round and round in a conversation that kept coming up over and over again. A person would start with “my boss…” or “my mother…” or “my friend…” or “my wife…” and then just launch into the same tired rant. I’ve heard work rants along the same lines as well, co-workers complaining about their responsibilities. I’ve had thoughts that would plague me too, coming to replay on loop in the middle of the night.
Sometimes an interruption or just leaving the room to get a glass of water would work. Sometimes nothing did. Then someone said what I needed to hear: if you keep working a problem over and over in your head, maybe you need to accept it as a fact instead and just let it go. It isn’t as easy as snapping your fingers, but when you finally realize someone is who they are or that a situation is what it is and you can’t do anything about it, you can start working to accept it and let it go.
And sometimes, once you have accepted a person or a situation, you can then find the compassion you need to live with it instead of the frustration from having to be confronted with it repeatedly.
7. Take Responsibility for Inviting Trouble
Is the person or the situation really unavoidable or did you put yourself in the situation or in a relationship with this person through your own actions? You have to be real about this one. Sometimes by trying to be nice and avoid conflict, you can do yourself a disservice. Sometimes by trying to be a good person, a supportive listener who empathizes and makes eye contact, you set up a relationship where someone emotionally unloads their problems on you.
We all need emotional comfort and support at different times, but no one has the right to loom over another person and just unload their negativity. It is not ok to unload negativity on people – it is toxic. Do you have a problem with being needed or depended on? If so, you may be gravitating to troubled people or attracting them.
No one here wants to blame the victim but only empower you. To take back your power, you may need to say goodbye to people that are realistically too troubled for you to fix. We can comfort, but not fix another person or another person’s situation. To think so might be almost narcissistic on our part.
8. Close the Curtain on the Drama
After you’ve done everything you can do, and you know that a situation is untenable and draining, you can give yourself permission to let go and move on. Sometimes you need to let go of a job, a position, or a friend because it is hurting your life. This can make you feel guilty or feel some amount of misplaced shame, so it is very import to fully accept that the negative person or difficult situation is a fact of life, not a judgement or your failure.
You did what you were capable of doing and there is no contract that says you need to self-sacrifice your wellbeing or quality of life. There are some posts we may not leave. There are causes we might need to make a stand for. There are relationships we may not sever. If so, acknowledge yourself as having done everything and accept that the sky is blue, the grass is green, and some people and difficult situations are unmovable mountains.
We only have so much of ourselves to give, and at times you will have to prioritize your well-being over another person’s. Don’t allow people and situations to ruin you or your day or your life. Hopefully with some of these tips you will be able to lean in and make the best of whatever life brings your way.