Dealing with Negative People

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01Oct2011

Dealing with Negative People

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By Sarah Jeffrey-Gray

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We spend more time at work than at home with our family or out with our friends. The relationships which we have at work (whether with clients or colleagues) and how we react to the people involved make a significant contribution to our overall happiness and sense of well-being. Whilst some work relationships may build to become friendships outside work, friendship is not necessary for a successful work relationship.

So what are the essential ingredients for successful work relationships? The main ones are:

• Common aims and values in the work context
• Professional respect for oneself as well as others
• Working well as a team
• Good anger and conflict management skills (including assertiveness skills)
• The ability to inoculate oneself against negative people

Previous articles have already covered some of these ingredients; this article concentrates on inoculation against negative people. These are people whom we have all come across at some stage and we need to ensure that their negativity does not infect us, as this can otherwise lower our own mood and attitude. Negative people can be very draining if we do not protect ourselves against them. They have developed an extremely pessimistic frame of reference for most things in their surroundings and experience, and appear to take a stubborn if not defiant pleasure in projecting it to other people. It is important that we do not reinforce their pessimism for both our and their good. Roughly 50% of our behaviours are genetic and the rest are learned either consciously or subconsciously. Whilst there is therefore scope for negative people to change, we cannot take responsibility for changing their behaviour, but we can stand detached from it to protect ourselves and take appropriate steps not to reinforce it.

One of the best ways of changing the subject towards a more positive slant and more balanced perspective is to withdraw attention from them, looking away briefly perhaps (no rolling of the eyes, though, however tempting it might be!), maybe with a comment such as “I see,” “Hmm,” “Really?” or “You may be right,” and then giving a more positive and balanced constructive viewpoint. An example I came across recently ran as follows: “Oh, I hate this new office. There’s nowhere for me to put anything.” To which the reply was, “I see. What I like best about the office is the way the environmental policy has played a good part in shaping the design; I have found enough space for me to keep what I need around me to work well and I particularly like the coffee shop next door.” Another was this: “It’s no good. They keep giving me too much to do.” To which the reply was “Really? I have always found our coordinator helpful in reallocating priority work when necessary. It might be worth considering having a word with her. I need to get on with something urgent myself just now. I hope you sort it out.”

It is important to be encouraging when they do make positive statements (using good eye contact and a warm/smiling expression) and keep withdrawing attention when they make negative comments. Above all, be careful not to get sucked into their negative world. What we focus attention on, we amplify. So maintaining a positive and constructive outlook allows us to focus on what is working well in our lives and retain a more balanced perspective.

This article by Sarah Jeffrey-Gray was featured in the ILSPA’s e-newsletter, “Dedicated.”
The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs is a professional organisation dedicated to helping people with their Legal Secretary careers every step of the way.

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