A reader recently asked me to write a post about dealing with negative people. If there are topics you’d like to see, you can always reach out and let me know!
Regardless of the setting, whether it’s a colleague, friend, or family member, being around people who have a consistent negative disposition is a challenge. There are many types of negative people, and many ways they can behave that are challenging. Some common examples include: glass half empty mindset, passive aggressiveness, constant drama or gossiping, perpetual worrying, complaining, or guilt tripping… and there are plenty of other ways this can manifest.
Some playfully call these individuals “Debbie Downers.”
Others call these individuals “energy vampires” and for good reason. As you may have noticed, it's really hard to be around negative people without it impacting your own energy. If it's someone you care about and you’re invested in wanting them to be happier, it can be even more draining.
So, what do you do?
Give Them a Reality Check
It’s a delicate conversation, but in certain situations you can have a candid conversation about the energy they're projecting. Looking honestly at ourselves can be a hard practice, and some individuals may not have any idea how they’re coming across and would appreciate knowing. If they don’t know this about themselves, they won’t have any motivation to change! Since it’s such a delicate conversation, and not everyone takes constructive feedback well, this approach is most appropriate if it’s a close friend or family member rather than a supervisor or boss (see below for tips on managing a negative work environment).
Give Yourself a Reality Check
Sometimes, the best option is to accept them as they are and do what you need to do to protect your energy. We all have a biological predisposition to think this way, and happiness researchers like Gretchen Rubin believe 50% of happiness is genetically determined and other research shows similar findings. Some people are content with this default way of thinking, or are in a place where they’re not ready or able to make a change.
No matter the circumstance, how do you protect your energy?
Shift your Mindset. As discussed above, letting go of the idea that you can change others is a simple shift of perspective that can create more space in your life. You may realize that letting go of the relationship is actually the right answer, but if that isn’t as feasible, a mental shift can be a realistic place to start.
Create Boundaries. This can be managing the amount of time you spend with this person and/or steering the conversation away from topic areas you know are extra challenging.
Refill your Tank. If you know you’re going to be spending time with him/her, can you plan to counteract that energy drain with something restorative afterwards? This doesn’t have to mean getting a massage after each interaction (though that sounds lovely!) but little mindful decisions such as avoiding overscheduling yourself or activities that require a lot of energy can be helpful. Here are some other tips to counter stress that take less than five minutes per day.
What about at work?
You may have less control over creating boundaries in the office, particularly if it’s your boss or direct teammate who’s always negative, or worse, if it’s the culture of the organization at large. If this is the scenario you’re in, the same self-care and stress management tips above apply. Furthermore, you’ll want to assess whether or not that environment is really right for you and what toll it’s taking on both your personal and professional development.
Many of my clients use their dissatisfaction with work to fuel their efforts to make a change. Tough day at work? Use it as more motivation to spend time reaching out to connect with others who will reaffirm that things can look differently elsewhere.
How have you managed these kinds of relationships in your life? What strategies have helped you protect or restore your energy? Is there currently a toxic environment in your personal or professional life that can be better managed using some of these strategies?