3 Hard-and-Fast Rules for Dealing with Negative People
Negative people stir the slop and smell the same stink over and over. It’s exhausting.
3 hard-and-fast rules for dealing with negative people:
#1. The three-time rule:
It’s your responsibility when Dark David rehearses the same dark concerns for the umpteenth time. You let it happen.
Never talk about negative issues more than three times, unless Dark David actually does something to move forward.
Listening with empathy makes matters worse when it’s an excuse to restate the same problems, disappointments, or offenses.
Negative words have trajectory.
Negative words eventually lead to destructive attitudes and actions.
#2. The rule of confrontation:
When Sad Sam brings up his pet personal problem, say, “Sad, when are you going to move forward?” Listen closely to Sad’s response.
Sad Sam will likely head back to the same slop and start stirring the same stink.
Don’t confront Sad Sam the first time he brings up a painful situation. Listen with empathy. “I’m so sorry this is happening.”
Three conversations later, Sad Sam says, “You don’t understand.” You say, “What would be true if I did understand?”
Dark David says, “I can’t change this.” You say, “Let’s make a list of 10 positive actions someone in your situation might take.”
Ask, “Who might know?” when someone is stuck.
#3. The rule of restraint:
Restrain yourself after a failed third attempt to be helpful.
You spoke to Negative Nancy about moving forward, but she’s enthralled by the abyss. Nothing changes…
She continues trying to solve her concern using methods that haven’t worked. Or worse, she does nothing.
Explain yourself before you pullback.
“Hey Nancy, I’ve told you what I think about this situation. It’s never good enough. You’re important to me. If I can be helpful, please let me know. I want you to know that I’m not bringing up this issue again.”
Relax. Let it go.
What suggestions do you have for dealing with people who are enthralled with the same problem?
How to Deal with Negative People who just won’t go Away (Entrepreneur)
Energy Suckers: How to Deal with Negative People (Mindfulentrepreneurship)
Simple ways to Deal with Negative People (Inc)
I love the idea of a rule of three times and will have to try to implement that moving forward. I also believe that when the time comes it might be necessary to have an uncomfortable conversation with someone to let them know that they are bringing the entire team down with their negative attitude or issue. We have to be cognizant of the entire team and for someone in a tailspin we may need to help adjust their vision so that they can see that as well.
Yet another great post. Thanks Dan!
Thanks David. Your comment highlights the idea that there’s something bigger than ourselves at stake. I wonder if exploring the advantage of overcoming negativity helps negative people?
Perhaps asking, “What do you want for your team?” But be prepared for, “I want my team to be safe. That’s why I’m bringing up this problem.” Or, “I want the team to succeed….”
Great stuff Dan!
A while back I delved into appreciative inquiry – one of the ways we were taught in framing the question for folk like David, Sam, and Nancy was to ask, “what would you be doing differently if this issue /thing that is bugging you/problem was resolved?” or “how would your contribution to the organization be better if this issue was resolved?”
What I like about those questions is that it gently puts the responsibility back on Sam/David/Nancy, requires them to think in the future rather than their stuck-past, and it sets up a potential action plan, i.e. “what do you need to do to get from where you are now to where you say you’d be if this problem was resolved?”
Hopefully, that begins moving Sam/David/Nancy in a more positive direction. But it may not, so the “what do you need to do …” question (when the problem is chronic) is the right time to follow up with, “I’m here to support you with your action plan – I’m hoping you can move forward. But if not, we can’t stay stuck here where you’re negativity is affection the workplace. If you can’t make the changes you need to make, it will mean that working here is no longer possible.”
Thanks Officer. Love the kind approach. I can be too direct. Also, the forward-looking nature of the questions really speaks to me. Getting people out of the past and facing forward represents a real shift.
Great 3 rules to address the one side (someone). What about the other side?
I’ve been in too many companies experiencing negative people for the pure fact that they got driven to that place by ignorant, arrogant, incompetent leadership. By applying these 3 rules in such situations it’s becoming part of the problem not the solution…
Always inspiring to read and think about your posts. Thanks for sharing! – John
Thanks John. If we see negative people all the time, it’s time for a look in the mirror. But, negative people usually need an intervention to see the issue.
We believe our choices and behaviors are the “right” thing, negative or positive. It’s challenging to intervene when leadership is giving birth to negativity.
But, we have to say that we all contribute to the environment we work in.
Perhaps the question is, What are WE doing to contribute to the thing that frustrates us?
You need to separate those people who just want to vent from those who really want some coaching on what to do.
For the person who just wants to vent I say—“I just have 5 minutes to spend with you and then listen.”
If I the person is open to discussing and solving the issue, I like to ask these types of questions?
-What exactly is the problem? How would you define the problem?
-Who owns this problem?
-What actions have you taken? What were the results?
-What’s the next action you could try? What’s your plan?
-Who could help you?
-How will things improve once you solve this problem?
Thanks Paul. Learning to limit the time we spend with venters is brilliant. It’s useful to help people feel heard, but unhelpful to gaze eternally into the abyss.
The idea of limiting time with people who don’t want help leaves the door open for a time when they might actually want help.
Interesting dialogue on Negative (-) people for this week. Our President is attempting to deal with a Challenge and be positive about it and the negative people (-) seem to overwhelm the situation. Yes the challenge is there, yes we (as a country) need to do more, yes we will do more, here’s what we are going to do and we will adjust as we go along. Doesn’t that seem more positive (+) of a message for the situation than, “panic, we are all going to die, President Trump, VP Pence and all don’t have a clue”. Would the negative (-) in the bunch rather he came out and said, run for the hills we are all doomed? Just saying that how one approaches a challenge sometimes matters more than the challenge and taking on a challenge in a Positive (+) manner seems to me much more effective than the ruling negative (-) approach.
How do you distinguish between a true Negative Nancy and one who just has an eye for identifying areas that need improvement?
There are folks who have the ability to immediately spot improvements not as a way to be negative but as an opportunity for improvement, yet coworkers seem to view these folks as negative because it seems that things are never good enough.
Hi Dan – great insight, as always. I read what you post and almost always get it.
Will definitely use this on difficult people – I take comfort that all but one person I work with is collaborative and works positively with me on priorities.
I would love to understand what triggers negative people to be so.
Does anyone have any ideas?
Ghandi had a good approach,
“Be the change you want to see.”
To the backbenchers, I’ve said,
“Let’s try this:
Affirm what you can here,
Ignore the rest;
Pick out what’s right (not what’s wrong)
And make it better.”
Just BE what it is you think we should be;
the rest of us will catch on.
No more whining.
Wow. These entries are supposed to be about my workplace, but today’s blog took a sharp turn into my family. So that I try to stay on track, I’ll comment on myself. I think I used to be the negative person that is mentioned. At times it did feel like there was nothing that I could do to change things, so I would be very skeptical to try to convince someone else that they can change things for themselves. That being said, I would like to try the methods listed here. It’s definitely going to start with my family, though. If I can make progress with them, then I would be more than happy to try the same methods with a coworker who might be feeling stuck in a painful situation.
I love the 3-time rule. Misery loves company especially when there isn’t a solution in the near future. It is very difficult to pivot from these situations when you want to help but I recognize the importance of enabling someone to “circle the sink.” What are your thoughts for how people get themselves in the same situations, causing the same outcome? They ultimately return to this chronic state negativity with brief periods of sunshine.
Dan, your posts always intrigue me and cause a thought-process deeper than most interactions. I love it.
I’d like to posit this to you: Does this relate to Passive Aggression at all? And if not, what are your thoughts on it? Does it have a purpose? How is best to handle THOSE people?
Thanks again! Looking forward to reading more!
We deal with the negativity in our day-to-day life, online, or even in personal meetings/gatherings. To resolve this first, try to understand or just listen, this makes sense considering that everybody has an awful day once in a while. Avoiding yourself falling into negativity and keeping conversation or meeting more light. Mentioning a happy moment or telling them to forget about it makes it more horrible, while dealing with negative people. Rather, give them time and space to think about it and then talk, without judgment or reverse opinion. If they want to hear your thoughts or process to deal with it, approach them in a sympathetic way with calm and tenderness in your thoughts, which they may follow later.
Do not take their comments personally or pass quick comments on them without knowing. Explaining your points very carefully and mindfully without mentioning how a negative person has become. Make it clear and explain valid points and make them feel comfortable without getting emotional and express it very thoughtfully.
Use insight to give them a proper reaction that will enable their ability to handle thoughts and help them become more expressive. Avoid preaching to them, instead act immediately, not just reacting or neglecting them makes it more difficult. Offer them hesitant responses that neither encourage nor censure the negativity. This shows undivided attention without giving the impression that you are on the same page. Help them to start with light discussion, help them to overcome the negative thoughts, and accept the negative events with positive determination.