Negative people love bringing others down. It can sometimes seem like that’s the only thing they enjoy doing. So what should you do when faced with a negative friend, co-worker, family member or colleague? At first you listen, offering a compassionate ear and hoping their negativity is just a passing phase. After all, everyone has a bad day now and again.
But if you’re dealing with a habitually pessimistic person, you're at risk of being drained emotionally. Negativity can be contagious, and if you don’t take action to protect your mindset, you may find your mood infected with hostility.
Hiding isn’t a good option, so try something better: disarm their negativity and shield yourself from their hostility using these six simple strategies.
1. Don’t buy into their negativity
Don’t allow yourself to become infected with toxic negativity. Do not engage in a difficult person’s habitual skepticism. Whatever you do, don’t stoop to their level. Maintain your emotional distance. This doesn’t mean ignoring them. Nor should you try to bright-side everything. Trying to convince someone to stop being negative may only challenge to them to amp up their hostility.
A difficult person is probably locked into a negative mindset that is part of the fabric of his or her personality. Negative people often have a demanding nature and put pressure on those close to them. They want others to love and respect them, to “be there for them,” yet they are incapable of offering emotional support to others.
Limit your expectations when dealing with them. A negative person isn’t a good choice to turn to when you’re feeling down. When you do engage with them, use noncommittal language. Acknowledge their comments without endorsing what they are saying. Agree with them as far as you can, then rephrase their complaints using less loaded language. You can't change their personality, but you might neutralize their toxic outlook.
2. You are not their problem solver
It is not your job to make an unhappy person happy. If you set out change a person overnight, you will fall short and may end up feeling disgruntled yourself. The only person whose happiness you can control is your own. You can (and should) remain positive when dealing with negative people, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you can cheer them up or change their mindset.
A fast way to annoy someone in a bad mood is telling him or her to be happy, so ditch the Pollyanna attitude and stop offering unsolicited advice. Instead, provide a sympathetic and unjudging ear. If they ask to hear your thoughts, offer them gently and calmly.
Ultimately, the best way to protect yourself emotionally from a negative person is to be secure and confident. Don't let a negative person cause you to doubt your abilities or undermine your desire to pursue your dreams.
3. Give yourself a break
Setting boundaries is how you give yourself a break from an encroaching negative person. You need space where you can clear your head after dealing with someone who zaps you emotionally. Keep the a negative person at arm’s length to avoid being overwhelmed by their toxicity.
Even though you live with a smartphone wired to your hand, you aren’t required return every call or text immediately. When you’re frustrated or annoyed with a difficult person, take some time to collect your thoughts. Contact them when you are calmer. Give yourself time to recharge your batteries so when you do deal with them, you have the endurance and patience to handle them with grace.
It’s wise to limit your exposure to the person when possible. Don’t feel pressured to invite them to lunch or coffee. When you must hang out with them, try to do so in group settings so you won’t have to deal with them on one-on-one.
4. Hold your tongue
When dealing with a negative person it’s tempting to let yourself slide into anger or frustration, but save yourself the heartache. Responding angrily only feeds their negativity. Hold your tongue and listen. Eventually, when they realize you won’t give them the reaction they seek, they will take their angry rants elsewhere. Tempering your emotional responses can be difficult, but it is key to maintaining inner peace.
Try not to take insensitive or tactless comments personally. Negative people are often so wrapped up in anger about perceived indignities that they aren’t aware of how insulting they come across. Listen without judgment. They may have a valid point, even if it’s buried in gloom and doom. Look for a takeaway you can learn from.
If you do respond, keep it objective and unemotional. Explain your points carefully and thoughtfully. Do this, and you’ll never again regret a conversation with a negative person.
5. Take charge of the conversation
When a person is constantly complaining about certain events or subjects, you can use a technique called appreciative inquiry, which is the process of asking questions to help the person gain a more positive outlook. If the person is brooding about a past event, ask questions that focus on the positive aspects of their experiences or about the future. Such questions might include: “What are some good things that came out of that experience?” or “What would you like to see happen next time?” Reframing the negative language helps them focus on how to achieve a brighter future in a positive way.
You can guide the conversation toward neutral topics by gently acknowledging what they are saying before moving on to something new. You might say, “Yes, I can see that you are upset with how that meeting went. By the way, have you had a chance to look at the report that was sent out? There are some interesting ideas in there.”
6. Be the light
Strive to personify positivity. Wear your enthusiasm like an armor against a negative person’s onslaught of hostility. Affirm your positivity by doing nice things for a negative person on occasion. These don’t have to be huge. Compliment them for something they genuinely did well. Remind them of a moment when they were happy and things were going well for them. For instance, you might say, “Remember when you were able to bring in that big client and everyone was so impressed? That was a good day for the company.”
Small gestures will chip away at their negativity. They might eventually find joy, but if they don’t, so be it. Doing nice things for others will make you feel good about yourself and affirm your positive mindset.
You can have a successful relationship with a negative person as long as your expectations are based in reality. Don’t expect massive changes overnight. The only person you have control over is you, so focus on your happiness. Rise above and remain positive.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors