Five Skills to Deal with Negativity in the Workplace

In order to deal effectively with negative people, there are five essential skills to help you master your own emotions and communications.

SKILL #1: Avoid Personalizing
Remember the focus is on people who are chronically negative. Negative people are negative with everyone, not just you. You need to tell yourself repeatedly that it is irrational to take anything they say personally.

By avoiding defensiveness and overreactions you will remain in control. When you are in control of your own emotions, you can confront a negative person in a positive, constructive manner.

SKILL #2: Use “I” Messages
A technique that will help you cope with some negative people is to replace the pronoun you with the pronoun “I”. How have you reacted to the following statements?
• “How could you do that?”
• “What is wrong with you?”
• “Why are you speeding?”

People in general, but especially negative people, tend to get upset when they get “you’d” out. “I” statements are much more acceptable and less likely to upset others.

Replace “Why are you speeding?” with “I get upset and anxious when people speed.”

This approach tends to work best when you are dealing with your own personal negative thoughts.

SKILL #3: Deal With Their Anger
Negative people are often angry. To remain in positive control follow these directions:
• Breathe slowly and regularly.
• Speak in a calm manner.
• Use the UAR process:
o Understand; listen and provide feedback
o Apologize blamelessly
o Resolve: specify actions

These approaches will not only help keep you relaxed and in control, they also will help reduce the anger in others.

SKILL #4: Confront Negative Conflict
Negative people can be particularly difficult to deal with in conflict situations.

Focus On The Issues, Not Personalities
• Say, “We are here to deal with the issue not to find someone to blame.” Avoid thinking, saying, or doing anything that might devalue a person or make someone feel bad. If you are too upset to talk with the negative person, you should reschedule the meeting.

Understand Their Feelings
• Put yourself in others’ shoes by attempting to see things from their viewpoint. Consider what is important to them, what they have to gain or lose in the conflict.

Express Your Ideas And Feelings
• Make every effort to express yourself in a positive, constructive manner. Again, use “I” messages. For example, “I feel unsure of what to do next. I really want to work this out.”

Be Willing To Compromise
• After listening with an open mind, be willing to modify your position based on the other person’s input. However, make certain the new position is one you feel is fair and equitable.

SKILL #5: Turn Things Around
How many times have negative people complained to you about why things will not work? They can give you dozens of reasons why something will not succeed. Negative people are also skilled at using sarcasm to destroy people and their ideas. A great deal of their and your emotional energy goes into these negative communications.

By turning things around you can divert this negativity into positive, constructive efforts. Two techniques especially useful for turning things around are

Using Opposite Statements:
When one person states “Boy, that is just what we need, another lawyer,” the reply could be “Yes, that is what we do need, another good lawyer.” Confronting this negativity by turning the situation around with the opposite statement.

After you have listened to a negative person list numerous reasons why something will not work, simply invite them for positive, constructive suggestions for what can be done to help make it work. It is often helpful to tell the negative person not to talk with you again until they have some constructive suggestions.

Remember, everyone has to manage negativity in his or her life. The key to success is based on how well you are able to manage it. Combining all of the information presented so far, plus the following guidelines, you will be able to be bolder and assertive with negative people. Keep negative people’s style and likely motivators in mind when you are trying to deal with them.

As previously explained, a person’s level of self-esteem (how good they feel about themselves) is often related to being negative. The lower the level of self-esteem, the greater the tendency to feel threatened by new situations. Negative people tend to react to threat by feeling angry or fearful, which further incapacitates them. When a new situation arises they feel even more threatened, angry, or fearful, increasing the likelihood of negative results. This downward cycle must be interrupted in order to turn things around.

The better negative people feel about themselves, the greater their ability to see new situations as a challenging opportunity.

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