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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante  

Dealing with negative people

By Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

“That is so stupid… She is so ugly… It’s not my fault; it’s theirs… He will always be a failure… They made me do it… It’s hopeless… I give up…”

We all know someone, a friend, family member, or colleague, who usually looks at the downside of situations. They can be very critical sometimes and unpleasant to be around. Whether they are making fun of a person’s outfit, blaming the teacher after they have failed a test, or predicting a terrible weekend the second it gets cloudy, it can be enough to make you run away.

It is likely that negative people have deep fears about themselves that come up in a variety of ways. Often, they are judgmental. For instance, they see a child throwing a tantrum and think that the mother is a terrible parent. Negative people are often demanding, putting pressure on others to do things perfectly. This can extend to being controlling, for example having strong opinions about what their spouse or children wear, eat or how they behave. This is because they are insecure about their own abilities and how the world looks at them. They can also be pessimistic, predicting failure or negative results when there is no evidence that it will happen. Negative people often avoid opening up in social settings like meetings or parties because they are afraid that what they say will be “used against them.” This can lead to boring conversations and “surface” relationships.

Although this type of person can be difficult to be around, we often keep them in our lives because either we care for them or we don’t have a choice (for example, a supervisor). Talking to negative people can leave us feeling uncomfortable, stressed, and even angry. We can sometimes doubt ourselves and start to experience anxiety. So what can we do about this kind of situation? We cannot control others; we only have power over our own thoughts and actions.

Here are some ways to deal with negative people effectively:

1. At first, provide support and be a compassionate listener.
Sometimes, the person can just be having a bad day; they do not normally blame and criticize others or look at the glass as half empty. By hearing their story, you can help them to feel better. However, if the person is negative most of the time, it is time to change your strategy.

2. Don’t buy into the negativity.
Joining in and agreeing with the person’s statements will only leave you feeling awful afterwards. Worse, if someone else overhears you, they might label you as a negative person. Don’t respond to their attempts to engage you in this way of thinking. Simply use short answers like “oh” and “I see.” They should soon get the message that you don’t agree.

3. Avoid confronting them or advising them to change their ways.
Most people don’t take criticism well and people who are already negative will not have a good reaction. This approach will only make the problem worse. What you want to do is show them how to be positive, not tell them how. It does not help to criticize a criticizer.

4. Role model positivity.
Compliment that person and others around you. Saying things like “you did a great job” and “that was nice of you to do that” will leave them feeling better about themselves. They may then start to adopt the same kinds of behaviour. Also, be sure of your own good qualities. If you are more confident yourself, you won’t be as upset when you hear negative comments. You’ll be able to respond with confidence. For example, the person might say, “I don’t think you should take that job.” You might want to lash out and say, “You never support me!” or “Why do you have to bring me down?” However, being sure of yourself and your choices might lead you to respond instead with, “I think this will be a good change for me.”

5. Encourage them to look at the bright side.
After someone tells you about his or her awful experience or how someone else is to blame for what happened, respond by saying, “What did you learn from that situation?” or “What do you think you would do differently next time?” This encourages them to realize that they have power to change things for the better, and that they are not helpless.

For some people, making negative comments can be a cry for help. Underneath, they may be feeling pain, sadness or anger, and they don’t know how to recognize or communicate these emotions in a healthy way. Sometimes people have been abused or have very low self-confidence. If they are showing signs of depression or you are worried that they might hurt themselves, get them to professional help right away. Always be polite and show patience. You could be helping that person more than you realize.

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is the founder of Nexus Counselling and a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She is a proud member of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council and a provider for the Blue Cross Employee Assistance Program. Cheryl has experience helping clients with issues such as grief, depression, relationship difficulties, parenting, aging and illness. She can be reached at (204) 297-6744 or