How to deal with negative people
Negative people will never pay your bills!
If they aren't paying your bills, they don't get a say in your life!
One obvious solution is to walk away from them. But this is easier said than done; while we could always walk away from the bartender with a bad attitude or the airline agent with an anger-management problem, we can’t walk away from a parent, sibling, spouse, colleague, or friend with a negative attitude.
A more practical approach to dealing with them is to start by understanding the reasons for their negativity. In brief, almost all negativity has its roots in one of three deep-seated fears: the fear of being disrespected by others, the fear of not being loved by others, and the fear that “bad things” are going to happen. These fears feed off each other to fuel the belief that “the world is a dangerous place and people are generally mean.”
It is easy to see how, from the perspective of someone operating from such fears, it makes sense to question the wisdom of pursuing dreams (failure seems all but guaranteed), and to be averse to taking risks even if it is obvious that doing so is necessary to learn and grow. It is also easy to see why people with these fears would find it difficult to trust other people.
The fears that negative people harbor manifest themselves in a variety of ways, including:
• A thin skin, or the proclivity to take umbrage at others’ comments; e.g., “you look good today” is interpreted as, “you mean, I didn’t look good yesterday?”
• Judgmentalism, or the tendency to impute negative motivations to others’ innocent actions; thus, guests who don’t compliment a meal are judged as “uncouth brutes who don’t deserve future invitations.”
• Diffidence: A sense of helplessness about one’s ability to deal with life’s challenges, leading to anxiety in facing those challenges, and to shame or guilt when the challenges are not met.
• Demanding nature: Although negative people are diffident about their own abilities, they nevertheless put pressure on close-others to succeed and “make me proud” and “not let me down”.
• Pessimism, or the tendency to believe that the future is bleak; thus, for example, negative people can more readily think of ways in which an important sales call will go badly than well.
• Risk aversion, especially in social settings. This leads to reluctance to divulge any information that could be “used against me,” leading, ultimately, to boring conversations and superficial relationships.
• The need to control others’—especially close-others’—behaviors. For example, negative people have strong preferences on what and how their children should eat, what type of car their spouse should drive, etc.
Notice a common feature across all of these manifestations of negativity: the tendency to blame external factors—other people, the environment, or “luck”—rather than oneself, for one’s negative attitudes. Thus, negative people tend to think, “If only people realized my true worth, if only people were nicer and the world wasn’t fraught with danger, and if only my friends, relatives, and colleagues behaved like I want them to, then I’d be happy!”
At first blush, it might seem paradoxical that negative people can simultaneously feel diffident about themselves and feel entitled to others’ respect and love. Similarly, it may seem paradoxical that negative people feel pessimistic about their own future and yet goad others to succeed. But of course, there’s no paradox here. It’s precisely because negative people don’t feel respected and loved enough, and don’t feel sufficiently in control of their own life that they demand others’ respect and love, and seek to control others.
Looked at from this perspective, their negativity is a thinly disguised cry for help. Of course, negative people do themselves no favors by being needy and controlling—they’d be far more successful in getting the respect, love and control they crave if they realized how self-defeating their neediness and desire for control is—but that doesn’t take away the fact that negative people need help.
A straightforward, but ultimately unproductive way of helping negative people is to give them the respect, love, and control they crave. However, this could be a slippery slope since people adapt to the new levels of respect, love, and control they get and thus, you may find yourself in the position of having to provide increasing levels of respect, love and control to keep the negative people happy. Put differently, by fulfilling their desires, you may be creating a Frankenstein that comes back to haunt you worse than ever.
What do you think? Have you ever dealt with negative people? How do you handle it?