I'm Positive You're Negative

By Robert Goldman

August 8, 2019 6 min read

I don't mean to be negative, but don't you hate working with people who are negative?

And negative people are everywhere.

It's true! No matter whether you deal with co-workers, spouses or cocker spaniels, at some point, you will come face-to-face with a negative Norbert. About that, I am positive.

Aja Frost can help.

Frost is the author of "7 Perfect Replies to (Politely) Shut Down Negative People," a recent post on The Muse website.

For many years, Frost dealt with negative people by trying to avoid them. It was a strategy that "led (her) to miss out on important relationships with people who, complaints aside, were good to know."

Of course, at your work, avoidance would never work. Too many of your co-workers are just black holes in Allbirds. If you avoided them all, the only person with whom you could talk would be on your iPhone. Her name is Siri, and, frankly, she's fed up, too.

Frost also tried "commiserating with the venters."

"Not only was this bad for my mood," she admits, "but it encouraged people to keep grumbling around me."

From these false starts, the "7 Perfect Replies" were born. It's a technique for "responding to unhappy statements in a way that shut down the pessimism while still keeping the conversation alive."

Her recommended responses to negative news are not pie in the sky, nor pie in the face.

Do they work? You tell me.

No. 1: "I'm sorry to hear that. Did anything good come out of the situation?"

This response is designed to show "empathy while redirecting the person's thoughts in a more upbeat direction." If it doesn't work, go in the opposite direction.

"Yeah," you can say. "That always happens right before they fire you."

This won't make anyone feel better except for you and, heck, there's no reason both of you should be miserable.

No. 2: "Wow, that sucks. But I'm pretty impressed with how positive you've managed to stay about the whole thing."

Frost writes that "commenting on someone's 'impressive' fortitude incentivizes them to be less negative."

To which you can add, "You didn't get mad, and you didn't fight back. Everyone is impressed at just how pathetic you are."

No. 3: "Ooh. How do you typically handle that?"

"Asking about coping strategies will automatically put people in problem-solving mode," says our author. I would add, "The rest of us get blind drunk."

No. 4: "If only (name) had the experience/wisdom/work ethic that you did!"

"When colleagues are venting to me about others," Frost writes, "this line not only flatters, but encourages them to acknowledge where the other person's coming from."

It's a lovely thought, but how many of us work with someone whose parents named them "(name)"? The sad truth is, no matter how much you acknowledge them, someone named (name) is scarred for life.

No. 5: "Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like you're upset because ... "

Because ... it's 10 a.m., and you're sitting in your cubical weeping uncontrollably? This reply won't work because it's so obviously insincere. The idea is that unhappy people will run out of steam if you "just repeat their main grievances back to them." Isn't going to happen. They'll just include you in their grievances, which you deserve.

Negative people shouldn't be played with. Treat them with respect. Say, "You might as well zip it. I don't care and neither does anyone else."

They'll hate you, but they'll respect you, too — in a crazed, vengeful, serial killer way.

No. 6: "Oh gosh. Well, I'm sure you'd rather talk about something happier. What else is new in your world?"

When it comes to getting your co-worker's mind off their problems at work, this reply works brilliantly, especially if the something new is their mortgage being foreclosed, their relationship hitting the rocks, or their pet budgie being diagnosed with mange.

If they can't think of new negative things, remind them. Isn't that what friends are for?

No. 7: "Is there anything I can do?"

You're cautioned not to use this option "unless you can actually follow through," which, of course, you won't. But is that really so bad? It will be a refreshing change for your negative co-workers to include you in the list of people they complain about. Get them out of their rut and into yours.

If it becomes uncomfortable when they realize you will not lift a finger to help them, you can complain about all the negative things in your life.

Now that would make anyone feel better.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at [email protected] To find out more about Bob Goldman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at creators.com.

Photo credit: athree23 at Pixabay

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