Do you feel drained being around negative people?
Do you wish to distance yourself from them so that you can have a peaceful mind?
If you are an empath like me, you have to be careful with whom you surround yourself with because we get easily affected by the energy around us. Negative people can bring our mood down very quickly and make us second-guess our decisions. Negative environment, especially at work, can also make us feel unmotivated and exhausted.
But sometimes it’s not easy to avoid negative people or remove yourself from a negative environment. What if these negative people are your clients, coworkers, friends, and family? How do you avoid them? We still have to face them, right?
You can’t possibly avoid everyone who is negative.
I’m an INFJ. I tend to be idealistic and mostly hopeful about the future. My dad, on the other hand, is a realist. He’s skeptical about people and everything else. Growing up, I find it tough to communicate with my dad. Everything I bought up would be turned into something negative. So I felt frustrated whenever I talked to him.
However, I couldn’t just ignore him. He’s my dad and we live in the same household.
Furthermore, avoidance might not be the best thing to do in all situations. If you are a coach, a therapist or even a tutor like me, you are bound to have clients or students who are negative. You can’t just discard them. They engage your services because they have problems to be solved.
So what do you do? How do you be positive around negative people, especially if they are someone you care about?
Here’s how to stay positive around negative people.
1. Understand why people are so negative.
People take a negative attitude toward life because they have experienced something unpleasant in the past. They might have been disappointed, betrayed or hurt by someone they trusted or an ideal situation that doesn’t come to fruition.
However, everyone has unpleasant past experiences. It’s not our experiences that determine our worldview. It’s our interpretations of the events that determine the way we see the world. Even if someone is disappointed or hurt by others, he or she can still feel hopeful toward humanity.
Negative people are neither better or worse; they just have different worldviews.
Even though dealing with negative people can be draining, we shouldn’t judge them for having a different worldview from us. My dad is neither right or wrong to be skeptical of others and I’m neither right or wrong to be hopeful of people. Both of these qualities are useful in different contexts.
When you have a better understanding of why people are negative, you develop empathy for them and this reduces the sense of separation between you and the other party. Especially for people you met for the first time, give them a benefit of doubt. You don’t know the hardships they are going through in their lives. You will have a more positive experience with the negative person when you understand from their point of view.
2. Don’t ever tell them they are wrong.
The worst thing you can do to handle a negative person is to tell them they are wrong. Negative people usually have strong beliefs about their stand. If they think that the government, their bosses or their parents are to be blamed for their misfortunes, then that’s what they are going to believe. If you tell them or suggest that they are wrong, not only will they not listen to you, you are going to offend them and make them more negative.
Unless you want to get into an argument with them, why correct their worldviews?
I don’t get it when people argue on social media. If someone says something you don’t agree with on their own wall, ignore it. That’s their space to share their opinions. Why get into an argument with them and make things worse?
When you are having a conversation with negative people, just listen to what they have to say. You don’t have to agree with them. When I talk to people, I always nod my head as I listen. It’s not because I agree with what they say. It’s because I acknowledge I understood what they say. Being open to listening to another point of view doesn’t mean that I think what they say is correct.
You can’t convince someone by arguing with them, you will just get dragged into their negativity. Ask yourself, “Why would anyone want to listen to someone who thinks they are wrong or stupid?”
3. Find out what they need and know what you can offer.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” way to manage negative people.
If you have friends who are depressed, obviously their outlook on life is going to be negative. It’s not their fault. If they need someone to talk to, offer your time. They might not have enough perspective on the problems they are facing, so help them to see hope.
However, if you know that someone is a chronic complainer, they just want to complain about their life and not do anything about it, then it’s better to ignore their complaints or walk away.
Don’t try to change someone’s perception if they aren’t open to listening.
Know what you can do and cannot do. You can influence someone to change if they are open to it, but you can’t force someone to change. Please don’t try to make negative people positive. It doesn’t work. If someone isn’t open to your suggestions, you will just be wasting your time and effort on them. They will dismiss every solution you suggest or make something negative out of it.
Also, you must know what you can offer and not burn yourself up. If you know that you get easily affected by negative energy, know your limits. For me, I do enjoy listening to other people’s problems and helping people. But whenever I realize I reach my limits, I know it’s time for me to limit my contact with other people and recharge.
4. State and stick to your boundaries.
Being empathetic, I have a tendency to attract negative people. I could be eating in the hawker center one day and a stranger would sit next to me and tell me how bad the government is.
Sometimes, people just want to be heard. If you don’t mind listening to their complaints, then that’s fine. But if you are not willing to listen, then you will have to communicate your boundaries clearly: Sorry, I’m not interested in listening about the politics.
Negative people don’t see themselves as negative.
They believe what they say is the truth! So if you don’t let them know your boundaries, they will continue to rant and complain to you. Once I was in the army and I was reading my book, a peer sat next to me and started ranting about the army. I tried not to engage in a conversation with him or acknowledge what he said. I even had my book up to my face, but he still wouldn’t stop ranting.
Sometimes, people just don’t get the social cues. You have to communicate with them in a straightforward manner that is neutral and non-emotional. If they don’t respect your boundaries after you have communicated to them, then don’t be their audience. Walk away and stick to your boundaries. But always communicate first and use avoidance as the last resort.
5. Avoid the topic, not the people.
We tend to stay away from or avoid negative people in our lives because it’s the easiest way to protect ourselves from negative energy. However, most of us don’t realize that isolating people isn’t good for the humanity. It’s very polarizing like we are dividing people according to good vs evil.
Look from the perspective of the negative people, They already have such negative views on life. If we continue to avoid or isolate them, it just going to support their belief that the world is a bad place. The last thing we want is to make people feel like they are an outcast or treated unfairly.
Change the conversation topics to something that doesn’t trigger their negativity.
Negative people usually only feel strongly toward certain topics, so try to avoid these topics that trigger negativity when talking to them. Like for me, I don’t talk to my dad about politics, religion, or work because I know it will set him off in a negative direction. He also knows that I don’t like to listen to him talk about these topics, so he doesn’t approach me with his views too.
Instead, I often talk to my dad about topics that he has great interests in such as technology and investing. This is the best way to live with and talk to people who are negative. Most negative people are not negative about everything; just things that they feel strongly about. So if you are able to stay away from these topics, you can build a positive relationship with them too.
6. Don’t react and don’t identify with what they said about you.
I’ve met people who use negativity to manipulate others to do something (if you want to find out more, read Chapter 2 of The Emotional Gift). I’ve also met people who use negativity to gain support or get you negative. Here’s an example that I often experienced:
Negative Person: “Don’t you feel angry about this?”
You (matter of fact): “No, I don’t.”
Negative Person: “You’re weak / dumb / naive.”
Smile, walk away or reply in a neutral manner: “Oh, is that so? If that’s what you think, it can’t be helped.” But never, never engage, believe or identify with the things they said about you. Remember this:
If you take anything they say personally, you lose.
You just accepted the poison they give you. They have engaged the part of you that feels not good enough and get you reactive. It doesn’t matter if you argue with them or feel hurt by them. Once you react to what they say, you fall into their negativity trap.
Most negative people seek negativity in life. They want evidence to support their negative worldview and they thrive by watching the negative news. To remain positive with negative people, don’t feed them with negative energy. Most importantly, don’t believe what they say.
I know it’s difficult, especially in a work environment. But if they can’t get anything from you, they will soon find other targets.
Featured Photo Credit: 22/30 / lauren rushing