What To Do When Someone is Being Negative

Steven Gaffney First, a couple of important background pieces about people being negative. Many people do not realize they are being negative. Often, they think they are being helpful, contributing, and/or "just being honest."

Adding to the complexity of this is negativity, or having an opposing view. This can be useful in pointing out flaws that need to be dealt with. However, if we stamp out all of the negativity or give the impression that the only opinion that is correct is our opinion and not allow people to express themselves, we may miss some valuable information or feedback.

On the other hand, if we leave it alone this negativity can be harmful to a team, department, or organization. Remember a weed in our lawn, left alone, spreads.

So you have to make a decision? Just consider the costs…

Here are 5 things you can do to take care of and address the negativity:

1. Point it out. As mentioned above, many people don't realize how negative they are and the effect their negativity is having on others. By pointing it out, it allows the negative person to become aware of it. Let them know that the big problem is not so much a criticism but the degree of their negativity (you never hear any positive things from them) and when they are negative you never hear them suggest a possible solution. If they do not share this perception, invite them to keep track of how many criticisms they offer in a week and how many solutions they offer in a week. Or if you want, you could keep track of that for them. This all depends on your position. Obviously if you are their manager, you have the authority and responsibility to counsel them.

2. Use the Eliminating Complaining Advice (on our website in the archived tips section and previously distributed) and acknowledge their emotion and help them facilitate finding a solution. This is very important when we are in a meeting/situation and the negative person is being negative and we cannot escape. The key part of this strategy is to say, "What would you suggest?" It is very hard for someone to remain negative when we ask them, "What would you suggest?" In fact, that question, (and you may need to ask it a few times), will help take a negative conversation and facilitate it to a positive, creative, future based conversation.

3. Find out how open they are to seeing things in a different way. When someone is being negative, ask them if they are willing to be open to the possibility that they may be wrong. If they say no, or indicate they are not willing, you may not want to waste your time. Sometimes by asking them if they are open to coaching sends them a message to check in to whether they really are or not. I have had some cases where asking them that very question, has them recognize that they are not open, but when they think about it they become more open to coaching.

4. Allow them to say their "beef" and then just move on. This is especially important when we are in meetings and the person is not open to another point of view. Remember people often want you to move on and not get side tracked and caught up in a negative battle. After they say something negative, just move on by saying something like, "OK, our next point is…" Caution in using this tip: if other people share this negative point of view, do not move on. Instead use Tip #2 Eliminating Complaining Strategy.

5. Choose not to be around people who are negative. Instead choose to be around people who have the attitude you want or desire. It is amazing how often people allow themselves to be around people who have lousy attitudes. You can at least limit your time around that person(s) with a negative attitude as much as possible. For example: if it is a co-worker and they start complaining about the work environment or another person, excuse yourself from the conversation and share that you have some work that needs to be done.

Remember that no one can make you upset, unless you allow yourself to get upset. The key question is what are you going to do about this?

“Steven Gaffney is a professional speaker and author in the area of communication, motivation and leadership.” Copyright 2004 by Steven Gaffney and the Steven Gaffney Company.

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Category: Work-Life, Balance
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