Dealing with negative people
I said deal, not eradicate.
Negative people inhabit every company regardless of size, geography, and culture. As humans, we are born and bred differently. We have contrasting likes and dislikes. We chase different dreams. Our emotional and mental strength are not relative to age or job titles.
To demand to eradicate negativity in a person is akin to wanting to be that person’s third parent 20 years too late. It’s not happening. Donald Trump has a better shot winning the presidential campaign.
Negativity is a corporate cancer that perpetuates itself within a company, spreads unhappiness and when left untreated, causes fatalities.
To treat negativity, you’d need to spot the symptoms. In broad strokes, negative people are:
- Champion Complainers
To be fair, from where I come from, Singapore, complaining is almost a national sport. From the weather to the road tax to why-is-the-Government-not-paying-for-my-son’s-violin-lessons, we Singaporeans are one incredibly self-entitled bunch of champion complainers. Negative people take it a notch higher. Marinated with pessimism by nature, they don’t attempt to understand a situation before making a judgement.
There is no range in their feelings to everyday scenarios. They go from happy to moody in split seconds.
The client wants her logo 10% bigger?
OMG IT’S THE END OF MY CAREER!
The agency partner hasn’t gotten back on assets promised.
URGHHH! YOU’RE NOT GOING TO RUIN MY REPUTATION! IT’S YOUR FAULT NOT MINE! URGHHH! THIS CAMPAIGN IS GOING TO BE A DISASTER!
The overreaction to the most insignificant of all matters may be amusing initially, but it gets annoying after a while. Especially if on your end of the world, you’re dealing with a mum with stage 4 cancer and you have not uttered a single word.
- Passionate hosts of pity parties
Negative people love inviting you to their pity parties. They need company to fill the void in their lives. They need your validation on their negativity and hence they share it so generously like they are preaching John 3:16. Do not RSVP. Their hangover will be projected on you, and before you know it, you’d be sending out your own invites.
- Incredibly defensive (Arsène Wenger would be so proud)
There are two kinds of people. One who goes “Aight, shit happens, let’s see how we can fix this problem together”, and another that writes you a fucking thesis on why the problem was not caused by him.
It takes a good amount of emotional finesse to deal with negative people. I can’t go close to one without being infected but I trust my experience will keep the bad chi contained.
I have given up on many (patience is not my virtue), but I have held on to a couple of negative people as well. It is certainly easier to give up but perhaps we should stop seeing negative people in such negative light. Pun not intended.
The way I see it, negative people are emotionally handicapped.
Not all negative people are ineffectual without moral fibre, and many do have their hearts in the right place. If you think that person is worth the investment, here are some ways you can deal with them:
- Find out where the chip on the shoulder came from
Bad childhood. Unfavoured child. Nasty divorce. The chip came from somewhere. Find out where it came from and it’d help you emphatize better.
- Disarm with humour
You could say “Who the fuck died?” to an overreaction from them, or you could say “ROUND ONE… FIGHT!”. The point is not to indulge in their bad behaviour, but also gently put them in their place by highlighting how ridiculous their overreaction is. Yes, by getting melodramatic yourself.
- Ask, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
Often or not, negative people internalise their unhappiness and allow it to manifest ten times over. Help them realise that 99.9999% of the time, they’re not about to drop dead and die.
- Respond with logic, not emotions
Assuming they have a functional, logical side to their brains, fire away facts on why their negativity needs to stop. I promise you, as tempting as it sounds, there is no point in saying “For goodness sakes, must you make every damn issue about you? I’ve just told you I’m stressed out at work and suddenly, we’re listening to episode 23 of why you hate your client?” They’d just clam up and conclude you’re one heartless son-of-a-bitch and invite someone else to their pity party.
- Know when to give a tight slap of reality
When negative people lose control of their emotions and make bad assumptions and therefore putting words in others’ mouths, it is time to put your foot down and give a good tight slap of reality. Be factual, but save the diplomacy. If you care for them, you should not indulge in their delusion caused by their borderline emotional unstable disorder.
- Know when to give up
Negativity needs to be nipped in the bud before it spreads to the rest of the company. Unfortunately, not everyone is worth saving. At the end of the day, only they can help themselves. If they aren’t willing to change, you’d need to chop the tree and save the forest.