Nov 5, 2012

Fighting Negativity

File:No Negativity.jpg
Countering someone's negativity with your positivity doesn't work because it's argumentative. People don't like to be emotionally contradicted and if you try to convince them that they shouldn't feel something, they'll only feel it more stubbornly. And if you're a leader trying to be positive, it comes off even worse because you'll appear out of touch and aloof to the reality that people are experiencing.

The other instinctive approach — confronting someone's negativity with your own negativity — doesn't work because it's additive. Your negative reaction to their negative reaction simply adds fuel to the fire. Negativity breeds negativity.

To attempt to turn around negative people, we need to respond negatively with others and positively with them.  What does that mean you might ask….{waiting}…..  I am glad you asked, it can be translated into a three-step process:

1.      Understand how they feel and validate it. This might be hard because it could feel like you're reinforcing their negative feelings. But you're not. You're not agreeing with them or justifying their negativity. You're simply showing them that you understand how they feel.

2.      Find a place to agree with them. You don't have to agree with everything they've said, but, if you can, agree with some of what they're feeling. If you share some of their frustrations, let them know which

During steps 1 and 2 you are responding negatively with others not against them. This relaxes and opens them. It helps them feel that they are not alone and you are not out of touch.  Be specific.

3.      Find out what they are positive about and reinforce it. This doesn't mean trying to convince them to be positive. It means giving attention to whatever positive feelings they do show — and chances are they will have shown some because it's unusual to find people who are purely negative. If they are purely negative, then make sure they see you supporting others who have shown positivity. The idea is to give positive attention to positive feeling. And to offer concrete hope.

During step 3 you are responding positively with others, not against them. You are showing them that you support them. And you are showing them that they will be rewarded — with your support and attention — when they do and say things that are positive.

Source: HBR, Peter Bregman


  1. Thanks very much. I am saving that. It is something I have needed.. Good stuff, that.

  2. I like to think that is how I approach negative people and negative situations. I like to take the worst case scenario and began to build forward from that to a positive outcome. Usually along the way, we will encounter whatever condition that is source of so much negativity and continue to build from there. I think it works and I practice it regularly!!


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