A positive mindset is important to living a happy and successful life, but this is much easier said than done. One of the most common objections to “why I can be positive” is that someone else around you is creating negativity. Each of us knows a Negative Nancy or Debbie Downer, and this is a valid objection, since someone else who is perpetually criticizing can generally diminish your cheerful outlook or incite a reactionary response leading to an escalation of negativity. Though it would be ideal to avoid these individuals, sometimes they are our family members, bosses, or co-workers and are firmly implanted in our lives.
Many of us would like to remain upbeat but when met with resistance or attack we crumble because we do not know how to combat this challenge. Barbara Fredrickon, a leading researcher and pioneer in Positive Psychology offers 3 practical steps to follow to help diffuse negativity, whether it be an argumentative spouse or a pessimistic coworker. Through these techniques we can avoid being pulled to into negativity or escalating the situation and often help the other individual or ourselves see new perspectives.
1. Modify the Situation
Ask yourself tough questions like “what are my pre-judgements or hidden assumptions about this person?”, “How might this be influencing my behavior toward them?”. “Am I baiting them somehow?” Experiment with your own behavior when you interact with them. Try expressing more warmth, ask more questions, show particular interest in the lighter messages they convey, find ways to infuse humor, compassion and hope. Above all else don’t respond to negativity with more negativity. Avoid taking their comments personally and do your best to shift the perspective from half-empty to half-full. Meet their hostility with kindness; it is difficult for someone to be negative when he or she is in the presence of love and kindness.
2. Attend Differently
Look to the positive attributes of this person. Consider how you might give voice to what you appreciate about them. Work on enhancing the strengths of the relationship to mitigate the weaknesses. Complement them and highlight these strengths. People love to live up to the expectations that have been set for them and their behavior will reflect whatever you reinforce.
3. Change Meanings
Some people, no matter what you do, will forever be Negative Nancy’s. In a situation like this ask yourself, ”Could this person -or this situation- be a teacher in disguise?” Instead of seeing this person as a weight pulling you down, reframe the situation to make it a challenge–an opportunity for you to practice being more mindful, less judgmental, or more compassionate. You always have a choice in how you react.