Responding to a Negative
Person with Positivity

Friends Having Tea and a Talk

Speaking with a negative person can zap your energy if you let it.  The profundities of etiquette are anchored in consideration and respect for others, making us obliged to kindness.  The question of what to say to negativity must be open-ended, as being adaptable and spontaneous as required.

Choosing Positivity

When pessimism is the default, optimism doesn’t feel available.  Though it’s not up to a more optimistic you to make everything seem rosier, the smoothness that being etiquette-ful and mannerly can bring to a situation is well-worth the extra effort to choose positivity yourself.  

When talking with that negative person in your life, there are some ways to ring a lighter, etiquette-ful tone in the conversation.  

  • Acknowledge with empathy that you heard what’s been said.  “Marie, I hear that you’re saying you felt disappointed, and I do understand.  Hey, should we head for the coffee house?”
  • Acknowledge when conversation is repetitive.  “Yes, and as you’ve also concluded before in a clear way, you're doing the best you can!”
  • Change the subject if a new negativity comes into the conversation.  “Oh, no, Marie.  This is not what you need right now so I’m changing the subject for us.  Isn’t your son’s family going on vacation soon, and are they still planning to stop by for a visit?”
  • Stick to the important subject at hand.  “I hear what you’re saying about Tom.  Got it.  But let’s get back to finishing this report.  Wouldn’t it be great to submit it early?”

Being compassionate is always called for, though compassion itself is offered according to situation and context.  Boundaries are important.  We must remember that when the glass feels half empty, the person is being honest with reality as they perceive it.  But we can be affected, too, by someone else’s negativity.  It can rub off.

A Negative Person May Be Contagious

Recent studies show that a person’s “cognitive vulnerability” (the tendency to think that negative events reflect a person’s own deficiency or that they will lead to more negative events) is increased by being around others who have a general tendency toward finding the wrongness of everything. 

What can you do for yourself so that negativity doesn’t get a grip on you? 

  • Notice what you’re noticing.  Say it quietly to yourself. “I am feeling anxious and I am becoming angry and blameful.”  
  • Realize that a negative person can easily embrace your negativity.  
  • Intentionally seek to project positivity outward.  Speak it.  “Marie, I want to avoid falling into negativity here; it’s not your fault.  I do feel your pain.  But I know you will support me in saying that I can’t feed into it.”
  • Create positive boundaries for your space.  If things get too negative, you owe it to yourself to leave.  
  • Commit to compassion.  You can’t change someone else, but aiming to keep your interaction positive in speaking with a “glass half full” attitude can’t hurt.  

The fear that goes along with negativity, including fear of bad things that might happen and the fear of being disrespected by someone else are always a part of the negative person’s mindset.  But there are little things that can have big results in relationship such as offering sincere compliments, recalling good memories, and sharing why the other person is important in your life.  

In the long run, we’re working on ourselves, and once in a-while we need to ask ourselves how it is that we are in relationship with someone who is often negative.  Are we secretly trying to fix another?  Feel more needed?  Self-questioning can improve self-understanding and this will help you know more about how you can help the person suffering from negativity, and at the same time avoid draining yourself dry.  

Letting go of a friendship due to another person’s negativity may be a last resort.  If you find yourself exasperated and always trying to offer advice rather than listening, or being bothered because the other person doesn’t show interest in you and it’s always about them, it may be time to re-think your friendship.

"Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore.  It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.”  
~ Deborah Reber


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