Negative Nellies and Nelsons: 10 Tips to Stay Sane, Positive, and on the Bright Side No Matter Who’s Around

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Has this ever happened to you?

You walk into work feeling pretty good about life in general when you are met with the negativity and toxic behaviour of co-workers. Before you know it, you find yourself immersed in the griping, complaining, and head nodding. Is this how you wanted your day to start?

You are not alone.

Negativity and the behaviours that go along with it are contagious and corrosive in any environment; be it at work, home, or on an athletic team. Behaviours to look out for are complaining,  gossiping, criticizing, and comparing. Some folks are committed to seeing only the ‘bad’ in everything and have a propensity to “major in the minors”.

Here is what you can do to stay sane and positive. You might even help shift the mindset of the Negative Nellies (and Nelsons) in your life.

1.  Recite in your mind “I am not this story.”   When the Negative Nellies are running the same old, tired out story recite in your mind “I am not this story.”  What this does is it keeps you detached and reduces the chance of you finding yourself pulled into the drama.

2a)  Respond only with “OK.” or “I see.”  Translation = show no emotion.  One of the reasons why negativity perpetuates is because it gets fueled by reactions; emotional reactions. The recommended responses are respectful and also indicate to the person that you are not going to react the way they may wish you to.  If they are not getting the response they want from you the less likely they’ll be in approaching you next time.

2b) Then ask a solution driving question such as:  “What specifically are you going to do about it?” or “What is your next best step?”  If this ‘story’ keeps coming up help the person by asking “Ah, this seems to come up a lot for you and I heard you yesterday when you were talking about it.  I want to support you so, if there is a new development to this, I will listen.  Otherwise how can I best help you?”  or “Given what you’ve said I am curious; what is working?”  Use your judgement as to what question will work in the situation and topic at hand.

3.  People are not their behaviours.  This one may feel like a stretch for some and yet once you understand this it can be liberating in how you choose to cope, deal with, and approach those that tend to see only scarcity and negativity.  This is an act of compassion and it reminds us to see the person for who they are; not what they do or say.  A person’s negativity may stem from low self-esteem or a low sense of self-worth.  People are doing the very best with what they have and with what they know.

4.  Shift your physiology.  Pay attention to how you stand with the person.  If the conversation shifts south avoid mirroring their body language.  Shift to the side or be at an angle; close your arms or clasp them in front of you; and avoid too much eye contact.  Doing this will help protect you from taking on the negative weight of the conversation and it is another way to disengage.

5.  Set a time limit.  This is a great boundary setting strategy.  Let’s the person know right up front that you only have X amount of time; the smaller amount the better.  For example, Negative Nelly “Gotta sec, I need to vent.”  You, “I only have 5 minutes before I need to head off for that meeting.” For added impact use your hand to indicate five or point to your watch when you state your time constraint.

6.  Take the lead in the conversation.  Come prepared with different things to talk about that are more positive.  Put a positive spin on the topic at hand if it starts to spiral to the negative.

7.  Train them with your attention.  Ignore behaviors you don’t want and reward those you do with positive feedback or reinforcement. Don’t reward your perpetually ‘glass half empty’ colleagues with your attention when they’re caught in yet another negativity loop.  This actually enables them to stay stuck in their ‘story’.

8. Keep your body and mind healthy. Get your sleep; engage in regular exercise; practice gratitude; do stress reduction activities; and eat healthy.  If your body is worn down, it will be easier for the office drama to start stressing you out.  Looking after how you eat, move, and think will protect you from being drawn into the gloomy ways of co-workers.

9.  Model the way.  Never underestimate the extent to which how you choose to show up, talk, and behave has a powerful impact on those around you.  It is contagious as well; the key is to be consistent.  Lead from where you are with what you have.  I used this strategy consistently with a co-worker who chose to see the negative in everything.  Over a short period of time she began to soften her ways and see the bright side in situations.  Win/win!

10.  Focus on what is in YOUR control.  Your thoughts, how you choose to react or respond, are always in your control no matter the situation.  Let go of what is not.  We cannot control the behaviours of other people nor can we ‘fix’ or rescue them.  That’s their journey.  Focus on yours.