tips for dealing with negativity at work

Turn on the news and there is no shortage of negativity out there right now. Whether it’s at work, in your community, in your personal relationships, or between your own two ears, negativity is something that can be unavoidable. If left unchecked, it can bring down even the best leader.

In this post we will tackle ways to combat negativity from others as well as your own negative thoughts. Read on to learn more.

Coping with Negativity from Others

The fact is that there will likely always be negative people around, which can take its toll on you if you aren’t careful. Since it isn’t realistic to hunker down and avoid all human contact, it’s good to have some strategies to help combat the negative effects of others and keep your life, your thoughts, and your actions on a positive track.

Here are some ways you can cope with negative individuals to get positive results:

Understand That We All View Life Through a Different Lens

We all look at things through our own “lens,” which is shaped by our life experiences, upbringing, environment, and other factors. However, a person’s lens (or perception) of other people and events is not necessarily reality. By understanding this, we can better comprehend why others think and act the way they do.

Look for the Positive in Others

It can be difficult to find good in a person who is radiating negative comments—especially if that negativity is directed towards you! Remember that we don’t know what others are struggling with inside. Oftentimes, negativity towards others results from a toxicity or negativity that the individual is dealing with personally. Other times, a person may be having a tough time in other areas of his or her life, which could be temporary in nature. Try to show compassion and focus on the person’s positive points. While their negative behaviors may or may not go away over time, it will help you stay focused on positive things.

Look for Learning Opportunities and Then Move On

Maybe you or your organization have been on the receiving end of negative comments. While it is frustrating and easy to become defensive, take a little time to consider the comments. You may see that there is some validity to what someone is saying, even if they haven’t approached it in a healthy way. Once you have considered the comments, take the steps to make any adjustments needed on your end and then move on—don’t dwell on the negative comments.

Treat Others the Way You Would Like to Be Treated

They don’t call it the “Golden Rule” for nothing. By treating others the way you want to be treated and modeling the positive traits that you would like to see in others, you can have a positive effect on the negative people in your life. Oftentimes your behavior will rub off on others. At a minimum, you will avoid being negative yourself.

Let the Person Know How Negatively They Are Coming Across

This is a tough one, but there’s a good chance that the negative person in your life doesn’t even realize how much negativity he or she is putting out there. With kindness and care, it can be helpful to let the person know that you are concerned about their negative thoughts or behaviors. In the long run, it can help them a great deal to know what others are seeing from the outside.

Don’t Get Sucked into the Drama

It’s far too easy to get sucked into the drama that comes along with a perpetually negative person. After all, misery loves company. Resist the temptation to argue with a pessimistic or disgruntled person, or to join in on the grumbling, complaining, or gossiping that he or she is engaging in. It won’t result in anything positive and will affect your attitude as you go through your day.

Take Time to Refocus

Negativity can wear on even the most positive person over time. By keeping your life in balance, you are better equipped to handle the negative comments or situations that come your way. Exercise, meditation, prayer, or other enjoyable activities can help you relax and stay balanced. Hobbies can als be a great way to meet new people and engage your mind in an activity that is enjoyable and often downright therapeutic. By submerging yourself in something you enjoy on a regular basis, you are better equipped to handle the negative barbs you encounter as you go through life.

Limit or Cut Off Exposure

If you find that negativity is getting the better of you and none of the other tips above have helped, it’s time to limit or eliminate your contact with the person. If you work together, take measures to limit opportunities for extended conversation. Maybe that means that you don’t eat lunch in the break room (a common spot for communal griping). Every workplace is different, so depending on your work environment, come up with ways to avoid downtime where the person tends to exhibit the behavior. If it is someone in your personal life who is having a very detrimental impact on you, it’s time to let him or her go.

Stack the Deck

Have you ever been around someone who always seems to be kind and uplifting? It’s great to be around them, right? Make it a point to gravitate towards those types of people and surround yourself with them as much as possible. More than that, BE one of them. You will then become a positive force in the lives of others.

Tips for Leaders: Limit Leadership and Influence

If you are in a leadership position within an organization, be careful not to allow negative people to become leaders or influencers. Negativity spreads and can have serious effects on the health and well-being of your organization. It can completely knock the wind out of good teams and good leaders and can be very divisive.

If an individual with destructive tendencies approaches you about a possible leadership role, tactfully let them know why their behavior or actions are not in line with a leadership position and offer resources, tools, or tips to help them change those tendencies. People who are looking to grow will appreciate your feedback, while those who have no intention of changing will walk away from it.

Perpetually destructive individuals who are negatively impacting your organization should be addressed, and if the behavior doesn’t change, they will need to be let go.

Six Tips for Dealing with Your Own Negativity

So we covered some strategies to implement when you are dealing with negative people around you, but what if you are the negative one? It can be difficult to combat the thoughts running around in your head and the actions that result from those thoughts. But take heart—you can reshape the way you think and act at any time. Like any other habit, it takes a strong and consistent effort, but the results of being more positive will do wonders for your physical and mental health, your relationships with others, and your career. Here are several tips to accomplish this:

1. Realize that the “lens” we view life through may be a bit distorted.

In other words, our view of things may not be reality. While our minds have a way of convincing us of things that aren’t necessarily accurate, we have to be willing to question and challenge our own thoughts. Ask yourself the following:

    • Do I see everything as black or white with no in-between? Am I starting to make sweeping generalizations about people or situations? When you start to fall into this pattern of thinking, stop it in its tracks and replace it with positive, productive thoughts.


    • Do I assume the worst possible outcome at all times? Do I blow small events out of proportion? Recognize that most of the time, situations in our lives don’t turn out nearly as badly as we play them up to be in our minds. Resist the urge to let these events or thoughts take root and grow in your mind.


    • Do I fail to see the positive side of situations? Make an effort to take your negative thoughts and turn them on their heads.


    • Do I personalize the actions or comments of others even if I have no proof that those are accurate assumptions? For example, if a co-worker doesn’t smile at me, do I assume they are mad at me even though they may just be having a rough day or may have something else going on? Obviously, reading into benign statements or actions by others in a negative way will only hurt you—and oftentimes for no reason. Try not to personalize the actions or comments of others unless you have proof.


    • Do I have a crystal ball? None of us are mind readers. Assuming the thoughts or motives of others is faulty reasoning and can escalate a small misunderstanding into a blowout when it all could have been avoided. Remember: your thoughts are yours alone and not the facts.


    • Do I have a problem or conflict with someone in several areas of life? If you have had consistent issues with various jobs or relationships, the problem may lie with you. Analyze the similarities in each instance and how you might have been the contributing factor. Once you determine the issue, you can work on it and move forward for success in the future.


These are signs of distorted thinking. Instead of letting your mind wander, make a conscious effort to take these thoughts into captivity, analyze them, and replace them with healthy thoughts.

2. Avoid judging yourself and others.

Often, we unconsciously judge ourselves and others throughout the course of the day. By letting go of the judgements we are making and replacing them with positive thoughts or judgements, we are setting ourselves free of negative thinking.

3. Don’t complain.

No one really wants to hear it, and it won’t help you feel better. Take action to fix things you are unhappy with instead of griping about them.

4. Don’t engage in gossip; it is toxic and divisive.

Engaging in it won’t help you in the long run (even though you may feel better at the time), will cause others to lose respect for you, and will cause problems within your family, social circles, workplace, or other places where you engage in the behavior.

5. Find gratitude and satisfaction in your own life.

When you show gratitude for the blessings and strengths you have, there is little room to be dissatisfied, envious, or resentful of others. It automatically shifts our thinking to the positive aspects of our lives. Consider creating a gratitude journal, and review/add to it often to help you stay focused.

6. Get professional help if you are having trouble controlling your negativity.

If you are unable to curb your negative thinking or actions towards others, it can sabotage your relationships, your job, and your health. In this case, seek counseling to address the problems you are having.

Hopefully these tips will help you live a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life. Leadership Excellence provides personal leadership and organizational leadership training to help you succeed in your personal and professional life.  If you are interested in learning more about our Cleveland-based training programs, contact us today or schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation.

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