Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Dealing with Negative People

If I were to think about a question that is just as common today as it was decades ago, it could be this one: How do you effectively deal with someone who is really negative?

We all realize that we can’t control the behaviors of others, especially if the behavior is an innate tendency. However, we may want to consider how, if at all, we may be contributing to the very dynamics that are frustrating us. As you can imagine, this can be a more complex consideration when we’re leading negative people.

If you were to think about your interactions with the person or people at work who are positive and warm, my guess is that you tend to be positive and communicative with them. —Even if it’s just a simple hello when you pass each other in the hallway, or a question about their weekend when you run into them on a Monday morning.

Interestingly, when you reflect on what kind of energy or interaction (or avoidance) you offer the negative person at work, it’s not unusual to realize that you’ve stopped saying hello (perhaps because they rarely respond) and you’ve stopped asking how they are, or how their weekend was (so as not to have to hear their complaining). As a leader, we must ask ourselves if we’ve provided the same quality of support and coaching to our negative team members as we have to our pleasant and receptive team members.

Although it’s understandable that we begin to distance ourselves from negative or nonresponsive people, we may want to be cautious about mirroring their behaviors. Perhaps we should consider continuing to say goodmorning, or showing a genuine interest in serving them. This offering may help infuse a glimmer of positive energy into the more common negative or indifferent energy that they’ve come to receive each day from others—which only reinforces their negative tendencies.

So back to the question: How do you effectively deal with someone who is really negative? Try offering him or her some positive gestures without the expectation of an immediate return. Over time, your example just might have an influence on the dynamics of your working relationship.


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