Having any sort of interaction with a negative or downright mean person is unpleasant on so many levels. Unfortunately, they are everywhere and basically unavoidable. You know the type: Rude and inconsiderate right off the bat, as if they think that it’s perfectly acceptable to treat other people like crap, but also expect everyone else to show them the utmost respect.
The problem is that everyone has their limits. When confronted with relentlessly negative people, it can be very easy to stoop to the other person’s level, responding to their hostility with your own.
But success coaches Doug and Lynn Nodland have a different strategy: Countering the other person’s negativity with kindness—a topic they wrote about in a recent article for the Chanhassen Villager. Here’s how they suggest we do that.
First, deal with your own emotions
As the Nodlands point out, it’s a good idea to remind ourselves that we’re all human, and everyone goes through certain times in their life when they’re especially stressed, frustrated or angry. When we’re in this state, we may end up being easily annoyed, or sending out negative emotions without even realizing it. So perhaps you’ve encountered the other person on a genuinely bad day.
But as therapists love to tell us, while we can’t control other people, we can learn how to control our own negative emotions and behavior. According to the Nodlands, we should start by understanding why we’re feeling a certain way:
What is creating the stress and negative emotions? Are you overwhelmed with responsibilities at work or home? Is it a person that is making you angry or upset? Are your feelings about the people or the situations being triggered by things that happened to you in the past? When you recognize the root cause of your feelings of negativity, it will allow you to make changes to reduce the stress you feel.
From there, take a minute to identify things you actually have the ability to change (i.e. not everything or everyone), and then take action to change it. If the problem isn’t something that can be changed, see if you can at least distance yourself from it.
“While making difficult changes, cut out other stress triggers as much as possible,” the Nodlands write. “It’s also helpful to change negative thought patterns into more positive ones.”
How to respond to negativity with kindness
Now that you’ve processed (and hopefully) controlled your own emotions, it’s time to deal with the other person. Here are five ways the Nodlands suggest that we do that:
- Avoid mirroring others negative actions and thoughts. Treat them kindly. This could mean apologizing if it’s appropriate. Example: “I’m sorry if I have done or said anything that has hurt you.” Acknowledge others’ points of view without judging.
- Speak in a pleasant, friendly voice as if you were talking to a friend. Keep your voice controlled and avoid anger.
- Maintain an open and relaxed body posture. Avoid rolling your eyes, sighing or showing other negative body language.
- Breathe! Take a few long, slow, deep breaths in through your nose, pause slightly, then let your breath out. Diaphragmatic breathing relaxes you and re-centers your emotions.
- Smile, a genuine, friendly smile. Smiling can help put you and others at ease.
Will your kind smile cause the negative person reflect on their own behavior and improve it? Probably not. But at least you can walk away from the interaction feeling good about the way you handled it.