We all have them in our life at one time or another – the person who seems to be plagued by never-ending difficult situations happening to them all the time. This can be a spouse, a child or other relative, a friend, a co-worker. And, they come to you as their sounding board and support system. Every time something happens – which is frequent – they’re on the phone to you with Guess what happened now?
Yet, every bit of good advice you offer to them, that would seemingly solve their immediate problem, never seems to work. You’re left feeling frustrated and at your wits end. You want to help but it never seems to get better for this person. If you have someone like this in your life, let me explain what you can do to deal with him or her while keeping yourself in a positive mode.
Listen and Release – Dealing with Negative People
As a Certified Empowerment Coach, I see this kind of thing all the time. People come to me for advice on how to stay positive, and successfully moving toward achieving their own great goals, in the midst of a relationship with a negative, draining person. They seem to want to stay “down” despite all your good efforts to help them up. You carry the frustration of trying to help/support this person in their difficult time(s) all the while trying to stay positive in your own life. You may even start to feel guilty about getting ahead while this person is chronically floundering. They seem to be resentful of any of your successes so you stop telling them about them. You might even unconsciously start to hold yourself back from making any more progress in an effort to not make them feel worse. None of these are good scenarios.
First, let me explain something to you…Whether your “negative person” knows it or not, most often, they don’t take your good advice and that’s why things don’t get better for them. The reason, or reasons, they don’t take your advice can be varied. They often stem from their own fear of change, lack of self-esteem or self-confidence, or possibly even of losing you as their shoulder to cry on. Somehow, they’re getting some benefit of maintaining the rocky, status quo in their life where (at least it’s obvious to you) their lack of action frequently snowballs into several new problems. They seem to always be dealing with a new offshoot of the same problem.
As these people are often your kids, your parents, a brother, sister, a spouse, you can’t, and don’t want to, just cut them out of your life – though sometimes you’d like to! So, how do you handle them? You want to show support to them, but you don’t want to “enable” them either by:
a. Bailing them out all the time – either financially, or making excuses for them to their boss, family, friends. This becomes a difficult call, though, if dependent children, elderly, or disabled person, are connected to them. In this case, other people will also suffer if this person’s bills are not paid on time or they lose their job because you didn’t cover for them. On the other hand, the bad consequences of their inaction may be exactly what this person needs to kick them into action.
b. Being over-sympathetic. Often, this chronically negative person feels helpless in their life, for whatever reason. Perhaps they just haven’t matured enough to deal with the complexities and responsibilities of adult life. They may honestly not know what to do and are looking for an “adult” to guide them. They frequently want to escape and so they seek sympathy from everyone around them. As a result, they unconsciously repeat behavior that will keep their problems from getting solved as a way to continue to receive attention/sympathy.
Remember, you also still have your own life to tend to, your own goals you want to reach. You have to be able to “listen to and release” this person’s problems and go on with your own life. Here’s how:
1. Listen constructively. Many people are having problems today – especially financial ones – as a result of a slow economy, lay offs, etc. Allow them to vent their troubles, give them any constructive advice that you can, and then let go of it. Don’t carry their troubles on your shoulders. As much as you want to help this person, they have to be the one to take action.
2. Keep them Fact Based. Negative-thinking people frequently use the words “always” or “never”, such as, “I always get the bad side of the deal”, or “That will never work for me”. Remind them of good, positive outcomes they’ve had in the past, and can have in the future, if they’ll take the positive action to get there again.
3. Keep Moving Forward. Don’t put your own dreams, goals, on the back burner. Be a positive role model to your negative person by reinforcing that taking positive action is the only way to bring positive results. Whereas ignoring things, taking no action prolongs the problem.
Handling the negative people in your life is often a delicate balancing act. It may help to think about it like giving first aid to a snake bite victim. First responders will literally suck the venom out of the victim and quickly spit it out. Similarly, you want to get the “venom” out of your negative person quickly by letting them vent in order to help them. But, you also want to release that venom from you as quickly as possible so it doesn’t begin to poison you. Listen, continue to give the best advice you can, release it from your shoulders and move forward.
Dale Brown, B.S., M.A., C.E.C.
Certified Empowerment Coach