Dealing with Negative People

Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work in Europe. I was on assignment alone for ten months and ended up feeling very isolated. One of my escapes from the solitude, however, was the newfound interest I found in art.

I became mesmerized by the influential artist Édouard Manet (not to be confused with Claude Monet). I remember being in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris standing in front of his masterwork, The Luncheon on the Grass, and getting lost in it. I had arrived at the museum at 9:00 in the morning and, before I knew it, it was 5:00pm. I spent days there, mostly in front of Manet’s paintings, which also included Olympia. His work completely captured my imagination.

I began to read about his life and came to learn that he actually preceded all of the most famous Impressionist artists, including Monet, Degas, and Cézanne. In fact, many of them idolized and looked up to Manet. They would hang around his studio and viewed him as a mentor and an inspiration. He was the rebel who first strayed from the traditional Realism that had dominated contemporary painting prior to his arrival.

Manet was mocked and laughed at by critics, and I think he ultimately made very little from his work; however, he paved the way for others to transform art and accumulate wealth, prosperity, and recognition. Since then, art has deviated more and more from Realism into far more abstract forms than the work of the Impressionists.

I share this to illustrate the way that our society constantly pulls us towards Realism. The realistic and critical thinkers of our world are celebrated and rewarded. The ability to predict market challenges is a sign of great leadership, and the best lawyers are renowned for anticipating all the possible arguments of their adversaries in the courtroom.

Realism can be powerful when paired with purposeful action. The problem is that realism can be just one step short of pessimism and negativity. Everywhere you go, dreams are being snatched and potential is being cut short. Great ideas are left on the table because of perceived obstacles and impossibilities as viewed by “realists.”

No one has been more sensitive to critics than me. My ideas are precious to me, and it feels bad when they’re rejected or poo-pooed by negative people. But the more I’ve experienced this, the harder I’ve worked to remove that negative energy from my life.

Here are three strategies for dealing with negative people that have worked for me:

1) Addition by subtraction

About three years ago, I stopped watching the local news. It seemed as though it was nothing but a constant stream of negativity, and just made me feel bad. Also, through my exposure to young people around the world, I knew that what we see on the news is only a narrow slice of reality, what I often consider the least common denominator of society.

The local news provided no real value to my life and was only putting fear into my mind. I chose not to live my life based on this least common denominator by removing it from my life. I started to take control of what was coming into my mind, because the saying really is true that “garbage coming in will be garbage going out.”

Negativity is all around us. For whatever reason, it is what we are drawn to. Modern media and news has become the collective consciousness of our world. My suggestion is to not allow it to be your consciousness, and the best way of doing that is by eliminating it from your life. Likewise, you should minimize your exposure to negative people who make you feel badly about yourself and your ideas. My business partner has a funny saying that sums it up: “We should never walk away from the negative people in our lives… we should run.”

2) Maintain a positive vision

The antidote to negativity is obviously positivity. That is why it is so important to have a vision and a strong commitment to your goals. I call this my happy place, and it’s where I try to go when I feel the negative energy of others bringing me down.

For example, your mother communicates concern about how you are raising your children and a fear she has for how they will turn out. It is in that moment that you have to maintain your vision for what you are doing as a parent and a belief in the character and values you’re instilling in your children. If you go to that happy place, you can manage the impact of the negative remarks, rise above the comments of your mother, and maintain a much more positive relationship with her by not responding in anger.

I believe a positive vision is bigger than any single moment of adversity or criticism. If, in that moment of negativity, we hold true to our vision, we can extract something constructive to move forward with, rather than allow the doubts or naysaying to paralyze us.

3) Have the difficult conversation

I was having breakfast with a friend who mentioned not wanting to talk to his wife about a topic that might hurt her feelings. My response was, “You’re gonna be married to this woman for the rest of your life… you have to be able to talk to her.”

One thing I’ve learned in my 14 years of marriage is that love is not always pretty. It isn’t just smiles, hugs and kisses. Perhaps the most loving thing we can do is have that difficult conversation. Nothing shows greater respect and love than trying to resolve an issue that is getting in the way of your relationship becoming what you want it to be.

Very often, there are negative people in our lives that we can not walk away from. In this situation, the only way out is through. You need to talk with them. You need to tell them you care for them and it is important that you grow together. You need to tell them that their negativity makes you feel bad and that it’s preventing you from becoming the person that both of you want you to become.

I would also suggest that the two of you come up with a word, phrase or signal that tells that person when their negativity is rubbing you the wrong way. If they care about you, they will work with you on this. If they don’t or can’t, it may indeed be time to run.

It is so easy to allow the opinions and statements of others to dictate how we feel and what we do. This can be good when we are inspired and it drives us to positive and purposeful action. However, when the influences are negative, we must learn to manage them without adversely impacting our happiness and success. I hope these strategies will allow you to improve the energy that flows into your life through others.

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