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7 Ways to Deal With Negative People (With Studies and Examples)


Negativity can spread like a wildfire. Even though nobody really tries to be a negative person, we can all have bad days. And when we unconsciously go with the flow, we may end up spreading this negativity ourselves. Without your awareness, you can adopt a negative mindset yourself as well even though you don’t have a direct reason for it.

Luckily, there are ways to deal with negative people. Instead of allowing others to affect your happiness with their negativity, you can use the tips in this article to help you deal with these situations. So whenever you find yourself in the company of a chronic whiner or complainer, here’s what to do.

I’ve included 7 of the most effective yet simple ways to deal with negative people. By using any one of these, you’ll find it easier to just stay in your own happy zone.

This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!

The effects of negativity

In the intro, I stated that negativity can spread like wildfire. There’s a simple explanation for this:

Humans are group animals

There’s a couple of mechanisms in our minds that make us more likely to agree with whoever we spend our time with. For example, a well-known phenomenon that explains part of this behavior is “groupthink“.

In short, this cognitive bias explains how humans are more likely to agree with whatever the larger group agrees on. In other words, we often forget to think for ourselves, and instead just go with the flow.

Studies reveal how negativity spreads

This has been studied a lot by researchers over the years. This interesting study asked participants to review new products that they hadn’t used before. The researchers revealed to some of the participants that their peers had already evaluated the product negatively.

As a result, the participants were strongly influenced by the negative opinion of others and allowed this to impact their own judgment. Even though this didn’t actually change their own experience with the product.

The media you consume affects your mood

You probably already know this, but the media you consume can have a significant impact on your mood. If you spend an hour a day watching (or reading) the news, you may be surprised by how much it indirectly impacts you.

This has been studied in the past as well. This study found that viewing violent news can cause people to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Another study from 2018 showed that more negative language in the media led to a significant increase in participants’ mental and physiological issues. Sometimes, the effect lasted for weeks after consuming the information.

If you want to know more about this, our contributor Maili has written a great article about how the media we consume affects our mood.

woman on laptop at night in bed

On a positive note: happiness is just as contagious as negativity. Even though negativity in the news generally generates more “clicks”, the same principles apply to the spreading of positivity. If you watch positive news or surround yourself with positivity, you’re more likely to be happy yourself!

How to properly deal with negative people

Where does all this information leave us? We know that it’s really easy for negativity to spread, as explained by the studies mentioned earlier. But then, how do we stop ourselves from becoming negative as well? How can you actually prevent yourself from following this negativity?

What do you do the next time when a friend or family member is spewing negativity left and right?

Here are 7 simple ways to help you out whenever you are in the presence of someone negative.

1. Be authentic and remain your happy self

How do you stop negative people from spreading negativity? The answer is super simple, but needs to be said:

Simply try to remain your happy self. Try to be aware of the negativity and prevent yourself from indulging.

Here’s a quote that funnily reminds me of the power that we have.

Be happy. It really annoys negative people.

Ricky Gervais

By not indulging in the negativity, you’re essentially stopping the flow of negativity. While this may not help the negative person (in fact, he may not like you for not going with his or her flow), this does shield you from the negativity.

Think of it as a chain of dominos. If you were to indulge in negative topics, such as gossip or negative rumors, you’d topple over and help spread the negativity to the next potential victim.

Instead, if you were to simply remain positive, you would stop the negativity from toppling over more unsuspecting domino pieces.

pushing over domino pieces

I want to mention here that sometimes a person just wants to vent. This doesn’t necessarily mean that person is trying to make you negative as well. In this case, you can decide for yourself: do you want to be a good and supportive friend, or do you want to block out all kinds of negativity?

2. Simply limit the time you spend with negative people

The easiest way to actually deal with negative people is to simply avoid them.

It may sound harsh, but in some cases, this is the best thing that you can do. Even though you may care about the people that are negative and you want to be a good friend, it sometimes is best to just step away for a while.

This is especially true if you feel unhappy yourself, or if you’re finding it hard to deal with negativity yourself. You want to limit your exposure to negativity as much as possible. You need to focus on yourself more before you can worry about others.

3. Convert negativity into positivity by practicing gratitude

What if you don’t just want to deal with negative people, but you want to actually have a positive impact on the other as well? In that case, there are some ways to convert negativity into positivity.

It’s worth remembering that humans, by our very nature, have something called a negativity bias. Essentially, this is the term we use to describe our tendency to prioritize bad things over good things due to our natural instinct to protect ourselves against threats.

This bias, however, is not nearly as useful to us now as it was for our more wild ancestors, given how much less we have to worry about dying horrible and violent deaths at the hands (or paws) of wild animals.

Therefore, an efficient way to deal with negative people is to steer the focus from things to be negative about over to things to be thankful for.

For example, whenever a person spends the entire conversation talking about how much the pandemic sucks, try to express gratitude for the good things that are still happening. Or when a negative person is complaining about how the world is going to end due to global warming, you can remind that person that we have to be thankful for even having a chance to do something about it.

By using gratitude, you can steer negativity into positivity when dealing with negative people.

4. Talk about solutions not problems

Another simple way to turn negativity into positivity is to talk about solutions instead of problems.

When we deal with negative people, we often have to face the same complaints over and over again. Instead of indulging in the negativity, why not try to counter every problem with a potential solution? By doing so, you’re able to naturally guide the conversation from a negative topic to a positive one.

So whenever a person is stuck in a negative spiral, try to pull them out by discussing potential solutions to their problems.

As an example, I remember how my manager at my former engineering job has helped me in a way that I’ll always remember. I was crumbling under a heavy workload and had trouble keeping up with the demand of the work. Then suddenly, I noticed a calculation mistake that I had made weeks ago, that further impacted the project I was working on.

At this time, I was deep in the negativity spiral and couldn’t think straight anymore. One morning I went to my manager and spewed all the negativity in his face:

  • I can’t keep up with the schedule.
  • I have to tell my colleagues that I fucked up.
  • This will double (if not triple) their workload as well.
  • What if I made more mistakes like this one?
  • Things are all falling apart.
  • Etc.

My manager at the time luckily didn’t indulge in this negativity. He accepted the situation for what it was and spent his energy focusing on solutions. Together, we created a plan that allowed me to deal with my issues step by step.

Long story short: you can help negative people (like me at this particular time) by focusing your energy on finding solutions.

5. Praise the negative person for positive things

Another great way to deal with negative people is to praise anything positive.

Whenever a person feels like he or she is not good enough, try to focus your energy on talking about reasons why that person is amazing. If your friend is talking about how much he hates his job and why he dreams of quitting every day, try to praise him for his resilience in putting up with a crappy job anyway.

By doing this, you’re helping the other to stop being negative about themselves. This not only helps you deal with negativity yourself but can also turn this negativity into positivity for those around you.

6. Avoid arguments

While dealing with negative people, it may be tempting to just say “why are you so negative all the time?

This generally doesn’t lead to anything good. In fact, this often leads to arguments, as people are likely to do the opposite of what you try to achieve. This is explained by a psychological phenomenon called Reactance. This cognitive bias explains why people often overreact to being told something that counters their existing mindset.

couple fighting and arguing

Therefore, it’s generally a good idea to avoid arguments. Don’t go out of your way to attack the negative person for not being as happy as you are. Instead, focus your energy on more helpful and natural ways to deal with this negativity as we discussed in the previous tips.

7. Don’t tell them to “just be happy”

If it wasn’t clear by now, you shouldn’t deal with negative people by just trying to make them act as if nothing is wrong.

This will only be counterproductive. Negative people have every right to be negative, as we all have our own issues that we have to deal with. You shouldn’t compare yourself with others, as your struggles are not the same as somebody else’s, even if it may look like it from the outside.

Again, instead of trying to judge someone without fully knowing their struggles, try to be more helpful if you can. Focus your energy on actually spreading happiness and you may help the people around you be happier.

Wrapping up

It may be hard to deal with negative people, but there are certainly good and bad ways to go about it. I hope by now you know how to best deal with negative people, without sacrificing your own happiness as a result. Either limit your exposure to this negativity or spend your energy focusing on positivity instead.

What do you think? Do you want to add your own experience in dealing with negative people? Or have I missed a tip that has helped you greatly in the past? I’d love to hear about your opinion in the comments below!

Hugo
Founder of Tracking Happiness

Founder of Tracking Happiness and lives in the Netherlands. Ran 5 marathons, with one of them in under 4 hours (3:59:58 to be exact). Data junkie and happiness tracker for over 7 years.

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