What Do You Do With a Negative Soul?

by Roger Reid

Negative people. We all have them in our life. You may even have one in your own family— someone who’s outlook on life is overly pessimistic, complains about everything, or worse, they spend every moment telling you what’s wrong with your life. The result is an energy draining, frustrating experience no one wants to repeat.

Big question: Should you try to change them?

Depends. How important is this person in your life? If it’s your spouse, they obviously deserve more priority than the cranky neighbor who refuses to return your wave.

Unfortunately, the odds of resetting the internal compass of a negative soul are not on your side. Negative people are often at war with themselves, and until they’re ready to face their personal demons and take responsibility for their lives, they may not see anything wrong with their attitude or actions. Worse, they may believe it’s everyone’s fault but their own.

Charlie Brown at mailbox with disappointed expression

The truth? Some people don’t want to be happy—because they derive a sense of importance, receive attention, or obtain satisfaction from complaining.

In situations where you can’t simply ignore them or brush them aside, you’re going to have to learn to deal with them. Here are a few suggestions to help protect yourself from their damaging influence.

Never disagree with them. Try saying something like, “I see what you mean,” or simply answer with the word “yes.” Change the subject often and quickly by asking questions. Don’t worry about making sudden changes in the subject. They’ll see you as interesting and attentive. And changing the subject will prevent the negative person from delving too deep into the finer points of what’s wrong.

If you feel compassion for the person (especially when dealing with a family member) ask them to signpost with directions to hope and dispairrepeat the problem in “simple terms.” Then ask how they plan to deal with it. Go for specifics. Ask if they have the resources and tools to correct the problem. If not, ask how they will go about acquiring them. Then ask how they will take their first step in resolving the conflict and when they will be ready to take it.

Don’t lose control. If you feel you’re no longer a part of the conversation or can’t get a word in edgewise, ask if they can “hold their thoughts for just a moment.” Then excuse yourself to make a phone call or use the restroom. When you return, don’t let them resume the same conversation. Instead, ask if they would be willing to give you some advice about a decision you’ve been wrestling with. Then relate a real or invented situation that allows you to take control of the conversation and redirect the subject matter.

Limit the amount of time you spend with “negatives,” both in person and on the phone. If you know in advance you have to meet or talk with a negative person, start the conversation with “Unfortunately, I just have a few minutes, but I definitely wanted to chat with you.” Then go directly into the subject matter and bring the conversation to an obvious conclusion with, “I wish we had more time to talk, but that appointment (or other situation) took me completely by surprise and I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave to take care of it.” Then say your goodbye’s and leave (or hang-up).

They can be customers, supervisors, family members, or neighbors, but regardless of who they are, you should always reserve the choice of determining how much influence they have on your life. When the situation forces you to face the worst, you may have to consider the option of changing jobs to escape an intolerable boss, or giving your spouse, business partner, or family member an ultimatum to shape up or lose the relationship.