How to deal with negative people

There’s no question that being positive and optimistic both cushions the blows of adversity and makes it easier to notice and take advantage of opportunities when they come your way.

But staying positive is difficult if you’re forced to deal with negative people, a category that unfortunately includes a large percentage of the workplace population, says

Here’s what you can do to ensure that the complainers don’t bring you down with them:

1. Avoid them when possible.

This probably goes without saying, but the absolute best way to deal with negative people is to cut them out of your life.

At work, don’t hang out with them at the water cooler or sit next to them at lunch. Uninvite them to any meeting at which their presence is not absolutely required.

If they’re customers that you can’t avoid, stay cordial and friendly but don’t get sucked into a deeper relationship.

If you’re online, don’t read the comments sections on political blogs or anywhere else that people vent anonymously. That’s like drinking from a sewer.

2. Don’t go Pollyanna on them.

When you must deal with negative people, the worst thing you can do is get all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Your display of positivity won’t cheer them up. Quite the contrary. They’ll see it as a challenge and amp up their negativity to compensate.

Being optimistic around a pessimist is like painting a target on your forehead–a target at which the pessimist will aim his or her hatred and unhappiness.

Don’t believe me? Google “I hate optimists” and read some of the spew. Negative people are invested in their negativity. You’re not going to jolly them out of it.

3. Agree, then weaken by rephrasing.

Negative people express themselves using negative, emotionally charged words (such as hate, sucks, crap, effing, and so forth).

Because such words are loaded, they make the negative person more miserable and negative. It’s a classic feedback loop.

The only way to help negative people out of that loop is to edge them out of it by putting yourself on their side.

To do this, you immediately agree with every negative statement that they make. Then, as part of that agreement, you rephrase what they said using words that are less loaded.


Debbie: “I absolutely hate it with a passion when…”
You: “Yes, it’s irritating when that happens…”
Debbie: “This totally sucks.”
You: “So true. There are some real challenges here.”
When you do this, you’ll notice that the negative person will actually change her physiology. Her body straightens, her glowering frown lightens up.

Do this long enough and you can actually erode a person’s negativity to the point where he can take off the crap-colored glasses. It can take a long time, though.

4. Clear your head afterward.

Dealing with negative people taxes and drains your energy. Therefore, whenever you’re forced to deal with such folk, take time afterward to recharge your emotional batteries.

The best thing to do after dealing with the downer is to call or visit a kindred spirit who shares your basically positive attitude.

If that’s not possible, go for a walk, listen to some music, read something inspirational. Do something–anything–that creates a mental break.

Failing to do this is like failing to wash yourself or change your clothes after wading through mud. If you’re not careful, negativity can and will stick to you.

In fact, that’s the reason that negative people are negative. It’s a learned behavior. After all, most children are natural optimists.