We all have to deal with many people in our day-to-day lives. Some people are a joy to interact with and some are….not as enjoyable.
Have you ever had the experience of getting a phone call from someone and cringing because you know you’re going to be trapped listening to an account of all the negativity in their life? Or you see a familiar person and think: Oh, brother. Here comes so-and-so. They’re always so negative, complaining about everything from the weather to politics. Now their negativity is going to put me in a bad mood. Then you play your usual role, listening to his or her complaints, nodding your head in silence or adding a complaint of your own just to say something. Afterwards, your energy is low and you’re blaming the person for bringing you down with negativity that you believe they forced on you.
What if…the person is not really the problem, but rather the problem is the story we are telling ourselves (and others) about the person? Our feelings toward negative people stem from our expectation of them doing something or acting in some way we don’t want them to. Perhaps the complaining is an attempt to connect. Think of a time when you’ve joined in on the Complain Game, or gossiped about or teased someone. What was your motivation for doing that? Did you want to connect with the other person or gain attention? Were you unable to think of anything else to say and this is what “people like them” talk about? Maybe s/he isn’t used to employing positivity for connection and is just doing what s/he knows how to do…complain.
What if you changed your story about negative people in your life? Find something positive about the person and develop that thought. Or just focus on how great you feel and all the things you are grateful for. If you know they have a topic that sets them off on a tirade or pity party, don’t bring it up. There are other ways to show politeness, care, or interest than by asking a person, who loves to complain about their bad back, how it’s feeling! Rather, start a conversation about something that makes them smile or gets them excited to talk about, like how well their child is doing in school or their upcoming vacation. It will be harder for them to be negative if you are inviting them to talk about happy subjects.
Everyone has the ability to be many things, just like you. So allow people that are often negative the chance to show their other (positive) sides. And remember, you don’t have to engage your emotions when a person acts in a way you see as negative. When we get frustrated, annoyed, or irritated by someone, that means we have placed an interpretation or judgment on them. Try being a scientist, detachedly observing the results of a test subject. You can just say to yourself, hmmm, that’s interesting.
You can choose whether to allow someone to “bring you down.” It may take some practice, but the more you reframe your perspective around “negative” people, the more you will realize you have the power to choose your experience of them. How wonderful is that?