“My previous company had a toxic management system,” reveals Brian Polson, a team leader at an IT firm in Bengaluru. “The bosses loved to shoot down ideas and public humiliation was their tool to ‘get work done.’” Almost 60 per cent of the staff quit the place, he adds.
“We just couldn’t deal with the negativity. To keep calm every single day was a tad bit difficult,” says Polson.
Polson’s story is something that many can relate to; whether it is a boss, relative, friend, or co-worker, someone’s negative energy can bring us down and make us feel exhausted.
What research says about negativity
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found a brain marker that distinguishes negative thinkers from positive ones. Negative thinkers turn out to be more worried and are less prone to giving a positive spin to things. “One needs to know how to deal with negative people and stay calm at the same time. Otherwise, over a period of time it can have emotional manifestations where we ourselves start feeling irritable. This happened to me,” adds Polson.
A 2007 study by the University of Chicago Press Journals states that negativity is contagious. The participants in the study were asked to review new products. After some participants gave negative reviews to the product, some others followed suit despite having a positive experience.
Since every individual is different, one may need different approaches to deal with negativity, says Dr Ravindra, psychologist at The Mind Research Foundation, Bengaluru. For instance, one would deal with a child’s tantrum differently from that of an adult.
Here are some ways to deal with negative people:
Detach yourself: The way other people react to you is mostly because of their own life situations. They probably have their own problems to deal with, says Dr Ravindra. The solution is to detach yourself. Not all the negativity directed at you is personal, though at times it could be so. It is best not to take negativity personally, he adds.
Empathise first: Be empathetic but make sure they do not walk all over you, says Dr Sudeeptha Grama, counsellor and founder of Bengaluru-based mental health help centre, The Coffee Shop Counsellor. When you see that offering empathy is not getting you anywhere, it is best to remove yourself from the situation.
Stay calm: Respond to them just as you would like them to respond to you, says Dr Ravindra. Avoid passive aggression as it does more harm than good. If you cannot reason with the other person, you could try to change the topic, or just walk away from the situation. This avoids any argument altogether.
Be firm: It is important to be assertive. Have boundaries with people and be firm when someone tries to cross the line, says Dr Grama.
Ignore negative comments: When you know that the person you are dealing with is a negative person, be sure to ignore the negative comments, says Dr Ratandeep, a psychologist from Hyderabad. This will immediately give the person the signal that his or her negativity is not welcome.
Hang out in groups: This will give you a chance to change the topic and prevent the other person from directing all the negativity towards you, Dr Ratandeep adds.
Reduce contact: Keep your interactions to a minimum if you cannot completely avoid the person, says Dr Grama. For your peace of mind, surround yourself with positive energy. Positive energy is known to keep one healthy, both physically and emotionally.
Look at the positives
Umang Sheth, change enabler, founder of Gay Bombay, and The Hugging Club of India has been working to remove the stigma around mental illness and to form a support group for gay persons and gay-friendly people. He has been working with psychologists, psychiatrists, and counsellors to destigmatise mental illness.
Having been criticised for his initiatives, he has devised a list of questions one can ask oneself before reacting to a negative person. “If someone calls you self-centered and selfish, there are ways to respond to the situation and questions you can ask yourself before responding,” he says.
- Is there a healthier way to respond rather than my usual way?
- Is he always like this? Something must be bothering him; can I be compassionate towards him?
- Is it possible to ignore him?
- It is an opinion. Whether to accept or not is up to me.
- He said something and forgot about it. If I keep replaying it, will it help me or harm me?
- Do I want to let someone else take control over my peace of mind?
- I have absolutely no control over what he thinks or speaks about me. But I have control over how I respond.
- Can I respond without raising my voice in a firm yet polite way?
- Can I change my belief that he is always negative and toxic?