How to Deal With Negative People

UPDATED: May 18, 2016
PUBLISHED: May 18, 2016

No one likes to be told to “Smile!” or “Cheer up!” when they’re not in the best mood. After all, we can’t be happy and upbeat all the time. But it’s during darker times that friends and family need your warmth and positivity most.

Related: 11 Tips to Boost Your Mood and Be Happier

Here’s how you can foster a sense of positivity in the spirits of your friends, family and colleagues—without sapping your own.

1. Empathize first.

While you may want to remind a downcast friend of all the wonderful things in his life, it’s more effective to empathize first. Otherwise, you risk shaming him with a “look on the bright side” type of platitude.

“See things through the other person’s perspective, not yours,” says Jill Liberman, author of Choose Happy: Your Go-to-Guide for Living a Happier Life. “It’s the first step to helping others. Empathy allows for understanding and sensitivity.”

2. Really listen.

“The best motivational speech has less value than 10 minutes of real listening,” says Scott Hammond, Ph.D., a professor of management in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. “Don’t judge; don’t offer advice; don’t say, ‘Yeah, but… ’ Just listen.”

Be sure to make eye contact as you do so, says Kiely Flanigan, Ph.D., a professional development coach and former research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. “It sounds intuitive and easy, but most people don’t take the time to genuinely listen with their whole heart, mind and body. A good listener makes people feel respected and valued.”

3. Validate and flip.

This strategy works well for the glass-half-empty people in your life who always find something to complain about. If a co-worker is moaning about the boss, for example, you can start off by saying something such as, “I can see why you feel she’s a nitpicker” or “I know what you mean.”

Then reframe the negative in a positive way using a warm voice, recommends Ita Olsen, founder and director of Convey, a consulting firm specializing in speech and interpersonal communication. Say something such as, “She really is very detail-oriented. It’s helping me be more detail-oriented, too. Sometimes I get lost in the big picture, and I’d love to have a healthy balance.”

4. Find the good.

“Catch people doing something right every day, and tell them what you see,” says Tina Mertel, author of Meaningful Coaching. Compliment your spouse for making it to the gym three days in a week (even if she’s disappointed it wasn’t more); tell your friend how impressed you are with how he juggles his work and kids; praise an office mate on her creative problem-solving. When you look for the good, “you retrain your brain to find it, rather than search for failures,” Mertel says.

By helping your loved ones become more positive when they’re down, your world gets brighter, too.

Related: Why You Need Positive People in Your Life


This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.