Oh, if I had a penny for every time I practiced pumping myself up in anticipation of facing a difficult person or a negative situation. (Hint: I’d have a lot of pennies!) Every time I was about to enter an uncomfortable, negativity-charged situation, I’d tell myself to keep a positive attitude … keep my mind focused on what could go right, not wrong. I was always determined to keep a positive mindset and a positive attitude in negative situations.
The rehearsals for staying positive in potentially negative and explosive situations with difficult people would go something like this:
- I’d focus on maintaining a positive mindset: I would tell myself I was determined not to let anyone get to me. My mind would focus on the positive no matter what happened (that’s what I’d say to myself anyway).
- I’d vow to keep a positive attitude: I’d promise that this time I’d stay cool and calm, no matter how difficult or negative the situation got. No one was going to push my buttons … not today! My attitude could simply not be changed by someone else’s rudeness, insensitivity, bullying, or any other ugly tactics they might use. Again, that’s what I’d say to myself … it’s not necessarily what happened.
- I’d envision overwhelming success: I’d see myself interacting in absolute bliss with people who I used to find agitating, negative, annoying and frustrating. I could almost see myself skipping through a field of daisies hand-in-hand with my negative pal, with the Beatles’ All You Need Is Love playing in the background. Yes, I practiced believing that I could turn a negative situation with difficult people into a happy-ending scene from a Disney-type movie. Was I naive? Maybe just a tad.
For years I tried this ritual, and more times than not, all my practicing would be in vain. Why? Because while I focused on the outcome of what I wanted from dealing with difficult people and negative situations, I did not focus on the HOW’s of making this happen.
I could not will my way into staying positive because I didn’t have the tools I needed to stay positive. Determination to stay positive in the face of negativity is not enough; you need a plan!
So, I came up with 9 ways I could change the results of nearly every negative situation. And, I promise, these are FAR more effective than the wishing and hoping strategy that NEVER worked for me.
1. Get Clear on What Exactly You're Dealing With
I used to work for a company that had a working arrangement with Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott, author of Negaholics and The Corporate Negaholics (great book if you’re having trouble at work with negative colleagues and bosses).
Dr. Carter-Scott taught me a lot about the many different types of negativity you encounter. She has a list of 12 different types of “negaholics,” as she called them. Her work basically concentrated on the idea that negative people will behave in predictably negative ways.
You can’t change them, but you can change how you respond to them. And, when you do, it’ll totally changes the results you get from each encounter.
For example, “”The Bully” uses tactics of aggression and intimidation. They often come across hostile and maybe even scary. They do this because they don’t want anyone to challenge them, and they often get their way because it’s just easier to let them have their way. There are two things to remember when interacting with a bully: 1) don’t show fear, they prey on that; 2) stand your ground in a calm yet persistent way. If you try using bullying tactics yourself, you’re in for an explosive standoff where no one wins.
Another example of a negative personality type is “The Whiner,” sometimes referred to as “The Baby.” Their go-to tactic is whining and complaining. People often give into them just to shut them up. When dealing with a whiner, use logic in your dialogue and simply ignore their whining (they’ll stop when they realize it does them no good).
Bottom-line, if you’ve never studied how to respond to the different types of negative and difficult people you are bound to encounter in life, I recommend studying up.
I’ve already mentioned Dr. Carter-Scott’s work. Another great book is Rick Kirschner and Rick Brinkmans’s Dealing With People You Can’t Stand. And finally, Dr. Mike Bechtle has a helpful book called, People Can’t Drive You Crazy if You Don’t Give them the Keys.
2. Remember that While You May Not Be Able to Control the Situation, Your Response Is Always Within Your Control
Remember when I went through my not-all-that-effective 3-step ritual for preparing for dealing with negative people and circumstances? I wasn’t 100 percent off-base. The purpose of my ritual was to practice being in control. What I missed was the fact that I was in control of one thing: my response to negative people and situations.
- I always have the power to disengage.
- I always have the power to stay silent rather than say something hurtful or damaging (or that escalates the situation).
- I always have the power to look on the bright side … and this is probably the most important power I have in these situations. Make sure you keep everything in perspective; it’s probably not as awful as you think it’s going to be.
3. Focus on the Goals and Objectives of the Encounter
If you are about to have a difficult encounter with the boss, don’t forget you probably want to come out of the interaction with a job. So don’t throw gasoline on a fire; remember what you want to accomplish in terms of the bigger picture. Some fights you have to be willing to lose so you can win in the long run.
If you’re about to enter a difficult interaction with a friend or a loved one, how do you want your relationship to play out in the long run? You have to decide what’s more important; getting what you want in the encounter or getting what you want most (which may or may not keeping the relationship intact).
Know what your ultimate goals are in every encounter, and if there are multiple goals and objectives on the table, prioritize which matter most to you.
4. Strengthen Your Mindset on a Daily Basis - Don’t Wait Until the Negative Encounter
Peace begins from within. If you have a tendency of losing your peace on a regular basis, the problem might not always be in the negative situations you keep landing in. The problem could be deeper.
Everyone … and I do mean everyone … can benefit from having some sort of grounding ritual or peace-evoking routine in their lives. The more stress and anxiety you encounter in your life, the more having a mind-strengthening routine will help you.
Personally, I’m a meditation buff. To get the most from my routine, I practice regularly rather than just before entering a difficult situation (which, frankly, you don’t always know when they’re going to pop up anyway, so it’s best to be prepared well in advance.)
I’m a fan of guided meditations, and you’ll find a ton of them at Sounds True.
5. Have More Faith in Yourself - Believe in Yourself!
People who tend to experience more than an average amount of worry, stress and anxiety when it comes to handling difficult people and negative situations often have one common characteristic their confidence is shot.
Building your confidence … learning to believe more fully in yourself … is absolutely critical for nearly every aspect of your life, but it’s particularly necessary when facing the difficult situations and negative people you will undoubtedly encounter again and again throughout your entire life.
If you need to bolster your confidence skills, start by reading our post: How to Believe in Yourself: Self-Confidence and Self-Worth Essentials
6. Some Situations Are Inherently Difficult; Stop Dreaming They Could Be Otherwise
My nieces who are in college often tell me about situations they encounter that are driving them crazy. “It’s just so unfair,” they’ll say to me, all doe-eyed and sweetly sad.
Oftentimes, what they are complaining about does have some merit, and I offer sage advice for dealing with their difficult and stressful situations. Yet, other times they are just fighting reality. It’s like they’re arguing that water should not be wet or that broccoli shouldn’t be green. Sometimes, the facts are the facts and you’ll only waste precious effort and emotional energy by fighting them.
Some situations will be difficult; that’s ok, you can do difficult. (Remember #5: Believe in yourself!)
It’s never going to be easy to handle a hot-head; your goal is to not to allow their their ill-tempered ways to seep into your heart. You can be in the presence of someone acting badly without allowing their negative energy to overwhelm you.
It’s never going to be easy to hear someone unfairly evaluate or criticize you; you may have to handle hearing it the moment, but that’s only a moment. You get to decide your strategy on how you’ll handle it (e.g., prove them wrong, walk away, or accept that they’re just a perceptively challenged individual who wouldn’t know a diamond from a shard of broken glass).
To Sustain a Positive Attitude, Tap Into the The Power of Positive Thinking
In his book, The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale offered up some sage advice for why positive thinking is key for elevating your life on all levels. There’s a reason it’s considered a “must read” book by nearly every expert in the positive psychology and personal growth field.
As Peale says, “A positive thinker does not refuse to recognize the negative; he refuses to dwell on it. Positive thinking is a form of thought which habitually looks for the best results from the worst conditions.”
No one is advocating you bury your head in the sound; I am actually imploring you NOT to do that!
Instead, I’ve found that looking for the best in the worst is a great way to get through any negative situation while still feeling good about myself after the situation is over.
Exuding a positive attitude injects positive energy into the room the moment you enter. When you get your mindset aligned with positive thinking, and you get your behavior aligned with positive action, then even the most difficult encounters become far less difficult to handle.
8. Put the Power of Emotional Intelligence to Work for You
You may be considering avoiding a negative situation so you just don’t have to deal with it. Sounds good, right? I don’t recommend it. Here’s why.
Dr Noam Shpancer, from Insight Therapy, says. “Avoiding a negative emotion buys you short-term gain at the price of long term pain.”
Negative emotions will arise when it’s time to enter a negative or difficult situation. That’s normal, and to expect otherwise from yourself is being unrealistic.
If you want to be better equipped to handle negative situations and circumstances, then it’s time to develop your emotional intelligence.
Simply put, emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of, express, and control your emotions and to handle interpersonal encounters and relationships with good judgement as well as appropriate empathy.
According to Daniel Goleman, whose groundbreaking work on emotional intelligence is lauded around the world, “Research shows that for jobs of all kinds, emotional intelligence is twice as important an ingredient of outstanding performance as cognitive ability and technical skill combined.”
That means it doesn’t matter how “smart” you are or how many technical skills you possess, your emotional intelligence level will drive your success. That’s particularly true in handling negative situations.
Goleman also says, “emotional intelligence emerges as a much stronger predictor of who will be most successful, because it is how we handle ourselves in our relationships that determines how well we do.”
Clearly, developing a strong sense of emotional intelligence is paramount to excelling in handling both negative situations and negative people.
9. Master the Let-It-Go Method for Maintaining a Positive Mindset in Negative Situations
Yup, take a note from Elsa in Frozen, let that sh@# go!
Okay, Elsa didn’t use an expletive, but I used one because I want to be emphatic that “let it go” is the most potent strategy you can employ to keep a positive attitude and mindset when handling difficult people and negative situations.
A lot of times, it’s not the negative situation or the negative people are the problem; the problem is that you get so frustrated with yourself for how you handled the situation that you become dejected and demoralized. It’s not worth it. Don’t take negativity in your heart. Do the best you can and then let it go.