You know the type; they chronically complain about most anything and see everything through gray and depressing lenses. These individuals may have legitimate problems of course, but much of what they struggle with are minor issues that the rest of us do not put much energy into, if any. They may even see positive or neutral events in a negative light (e.g. “Sure, I won the lottery but look at all the taxes I have to pay”). They come and dump on anyone that will listen (that may be why they keep coming to you!) and temporarily feel better after unloading another pile of woe on to you. Of course, now you feel miserable. If you are not familiar with this type of individual, have a look at the case of Debbie Downer:
One suggestion from Inc. magazine’s Andrew Griffiths on dealing with negative people is to not deal with them at all (or at least keep them at arm’s length). Griffiths says, ”If I listened to the negative people I wouldn’t do anything, because life is clearly so damn messed up that there is nothing I can possibly do that would make it any better.” He determined that those with this attitude were bringing him down and he needed to keep negative people at a distance if he didn’t want to end up as sad as they are after an encounter.
Griffiths does not go into the how-to’s of setting these boundaries with negative folks, but warns us to be prepared for negative reactions. He encourages us to “stay resilient because the pay-off is big”.
If you have a complainer in your life and are ready to better deal with their negativity, Guy Winch, Ph.D has some survival tips to consider from this article on psychologytoday.com.
Briefly, Winch recommends:
- Attempts to convince the complainer things are not so bad or to cheer them up will lead to them really turning up the complaints.
- Learn how to express sympathy and validate feeling authentically (briefly), then redirect them to the task at hand.
- Winch states, “Even when your advice would actually resolve a problem for them, chronic complainers will not be especially happy to hear it: Anything that takes away some recognition of their "hardship" will be experienced as threatening to their identity and even to their sense of self.” Advice giving in most situations is not recommended, but if you do become aware of an authentic problem, listen as with step 2, and then offer brief, pointed advice.
We Can Help.
Even with expert tips on managing negative people, it can still be a challenge to put them into practice. If you find yourself with such a challenge, consider a telephonic or face-to-face consultation with a VITAL WorkLife consultant. We are available to help any time, 24x7x365.
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VITAL WorkLife, Inc.™ is a national behavioral health consulting company providing support to individuals facing life’s challenges, while also assisting organizations in improving workplace productivity. This approach of helping employees and their families, while also guiding organizations, builds healthy, sustainable behaviors. Visit us at VITALWorkLife.com.