We live in a world of ups and downs, but handling the positive aspects tends to come a bit easier than the negative. With the right skill set, however, you can manage negativity when it comes your way.
Understand Negative Body Language
Your body often communicates more than your words and the same can be said for others. In order to understand negativity and react to it properly, it helps to recognize specific and common cues:
- Moving or leaning away from you
- Crossed arms or legs
- Looking away to the side
- Feet pointed away from you, or towards and exit
While not a pure indication, these body language cues point to a negative reaction of some kind. Out of context they don’t mean much, but by interpreting the situation and what the person is saying you can understand a lot more about how they’re feeling in a given moment. For more on how body language works, check out our complete guide.
Of course, your personal body language matters as well as it communicates various signals to the people you interact with. While you don’t need to watch what your body says in every situation, it can make a big difference in a job interview. You’ll want to avoid these cues:
- Face touching
- Restless leg
- Sitting rigid or slouching
- Excessive nodding, hand gestures, and fidgeting
Generally speaking, aside from avoiding the general negative body language you just don’t want to use certain cues too much or too little. If you can find a happy medium, your body language will communicate comfort rather than anything negative.
Train Your Brain to Minimize the Impact of Negative Comments
One negative comment can ruin a day. After all, our brain has a negative bias and gives the bad stuff greater weight than the good. You can counteract the effects of negativity by finding a lot of small, happy moments to enjoy but that doesn’t prevent you from feeling bad in the moment. Instead, train your brain to minimize the impact of negativity so you don’t feel so awful when someone hurts your feelings.
To do this, separate negative thoughts from actions. You can do this by saying negative things to yourself and then proving yourself wrong. For example, if you follow up a comment like “I’m lazy and never get any exercise” with actually exercising you will demonstrate the inaccuracy of such a statement. The more you prove to yourself that you can counteract negative comments through simple actions, the more likely you’ll be able to do that when someone tosses a scathing comment your way. Not only that, but you’ll have a heap of evidence demonstrating the inaccuracy of their statement so you won’t feel so bad in the first place.
This process will help you put things into perspective, but you have to do that proactively as well. When you feel bad about a particular comment, make it your goal for the day to focus on positive things. It won’t feel much better at first, but as you pick up on enough of the good you’ll start to see how little that one negative comment means.
Learn How to Handle Negative People
Some people have a higher level of negativity than others. You can most likely think of a few specific in your examples right now. When dealing with them, it helps to know their baseline so you can anticipate what kind of negativity to expect. Marriage and family therapist Roger Gil explains:
If you hang around someone long enough you will get a feel for whether they’re the type to be more optimistic, pessimistic, or pragmatic. This knowledge is valuable because while you might expect a “yes” from the optimist, a “no” from the pessimist, or a “let’s look at the big picture” from the pragmatist, it’s the times that the responses don’t follow the “party line” that should interest you. By knowing what is your critic’s norm, you will be able to differentiate between the times that “they are just being themselves” versus the times that they may be recognizing something truly noteworthy.
When you know to expect negativity, you don’t need to spend much thought on it. Simply pay attention to those times when they break from their norm. If you get the usual negative feedback, however, it helps to re-route their complaints to something productive by requesting solution-based feedback. Productivity and ideas blog the 99u provides an example:
To ask a solution-focused question, describe a potential solution and ask whether it would be acceptable to the other person. For example, to get a piece of work accepted in its current form, you might ask:
“I know you don’t like the look of it, but if I can show you evidence that your customers prefer it this way, will you sign it off?”
Your goal is to leave the room with a clearly-agreed next step towards a solution. They may still be sceptical or unsure, but at least you know what you need to do to get the work accepted.
Regardless of how you counter negativity, the best solutions involve letting the issue go or trying to turn it into positivity. So long as you approach the situation with one of those goals, you’ll have no trouble dealing with negative people. (For more suggestions, however, check out our complete guide.)
Utilize Negativity for Positive Results
All of this said, you don’t want to discount negativity entirely. You can actually use it to help accomplish your goals. Excessive optimism becomes crippling for many people, ballooning up the perceived effects of failure. A little defensive pessimism can help when you feel this way because accepting the possibility of failure softens the blow.
On top of that, failure is good for you! It helps us learn. Sometimes it even helps to fail on purpose so you can push yourself forward. Negativity rarely feels good, but it move your mind to a better place and improve your abilities. Don’t try to root it out in every situation—embrace it instead. You can’t always make life comfortable, but you can strive to make it better.
Photo by alphaspirit (Shutterstock).