How to handle negative people

Bad attitudes can be infectious. So how do you stay immune?

Have you noticed how quickly bad attitudes can spread through a team? They seem far more contagious than good attitudes. And there’s a reason for this. Our brains are ‘wired’ to pick up emotions – in particular, emotions which signal something is wrong. Negativity is one of those emotions. But there are steps you can take to prevent yourself catching a team mate’s bad attitude.

Leave their words behind

Chronic negativity isn’t normal. It’s a symptom of depression or anxiety. People with these mental health conditions screen out positives and focus all their attention on negatives. That doesn’t mean you should, too. Acknowledge their views without internalising them. Imagine their negative words dropping to the ground, so you can walk away and leave them behind.

Give feedback on behaviour, not attitude

Unfortunately, shifting a negative person’s attitude might not be possible. But you can request that they change their behaviour. Start by giving them feedback on a specific situation. Describe exactly what they said or did. Then explain how those words or actions impacted on you. For example:

  • When you said the new procedures won’t work, I felt stressed
  • I noticed during the team meeting you raised a number of problems, but didn’t offer any potential solutions. I found it overwhelming to focus on negatives that way
  • I felt anxious when you said that the new system was going to create so many problems

Request a change

Next, explain what you’d like your teammate to do differently. Avoid telling them what to stop doing, as they might not know what to do instead. Instead, focus on describing positive steps they can take to change. For example, say “I’d prefer you to describe how we can make things work” rather than saying “Stop finding fault with every idea we bring up.”

Have a back-up plan

Just because you ask someone to change, that doesn’t mean they will. So it’s always smart to have a contingency plan. Think about what you can do if the negative behaviour persists. Some options include minimising contact with your teammate, closing down conversations which focus on negatives, walking away when disruptive behaviour starts or politely requesting that your teammate talk about something else.

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