New York Etiquette Guide

8 Helpful Ways of Dealing with Negative People

Posted on Mon, Nov 01, 2010

by Celestine Chua

Guest Blogger

Naturally, critical people aren’t the first people you’d think of hanging out with. While you can try to get out of their way, you are bound to run into one or two of them in school or at work. Here are my 8 handy ways to handle them:

1. Don’t Take It Personally

They react in this manner because of certain beliefs and frameworks they have about life. You may think the critical person is all out to get you, but it’s more likely he/she reacts in this same manner toward everyone else too.

Here’s one simple way to check.  Think about the common friends you have with the critical person. If possible, identify people of the same standing as you, so it’s comparable. After this, try to be present the next time they are with each other and observe how the negative person interacts with him/her. How does the critical person behave? Does he/she offer the same pattern of comments? Does he/she focus on the negative things? Does he/she come across as critical? Chances are high that it’s going to be a "yes."

I used to take my critical friend’s comments to heart. I’d wonder why she was always so discouraging, and would feel defensive when she voiced her unwelcomed criticism. However, when I observed her treatment of our common friends, I realized she did this with others too. Same comments, same criticisms, same hang-ups, even though I never saw anything wrong with our common friends. Not only that, there was a trend in what she said and harped on. It was then I realized it wasn’t about me-- it was her inner frameworks. It was a liberating realization. From there on, I no longer took anything she said personally and was able to objectify the situation.

2. Understand Their Real Message

Sometimes, I feel critical people are just misunderstood. They may just trying to offer an opinion but it becomes misinterpreted due to their lack of tact. At times this swirls into a big misunderstanding. They become labeled as *ssholes even though they really aren’t trying to be.

Unfortunately, people become hung up over “how” communication is done (the words used, the tone of communication), rather than “what” is being communicated (the message). The former ensures the message is conveyed correctly, but ultimately it is the message that matters. Critical people may be curt, but we are the ones who choose to attach the negativity to their words. Critical people may lack tact, but that’s because they lack awareness of how their rude behavior at work impacts others. You may be surprised, but sometimes they are really just clueless on how they are coming across (rude without manners?) until they see themselves in action. If you are taking their comments negatively when they don’t intend to be negative at all, that’s probably the worst way to expend your energy.

Filter through their words (more importantly, your interpretations of their words) and get down to the real message. What are they trying to communicate? Why are they saying these words? What are their intentions?  Behind their words may lie great insights. If you can get past the “how” and get down to the “what“, you'll gain access to valuable feedback for improvement. Two things occur here: firstly, you are a step ahead in your journey of conscious living because you are no longer behaving in a reactive manner. Secondly, you are literally more knowledgeable about their intent and feedback. This can be constructively used in your journey of self-improvement. Neither of these can happen if you are focused on their criticism.

At the previous company, where I worked as an American MNC, business communications were often direct and to the point. There were times when people would be overly curt and blunt, especially under pressure and tight timelines. One of the general managers was well known for his fiery temper, lashing out with verbal attacks and swearing at people when things were not going well. While some might gasp at this office behavior, there is really no reason to take offense, because that’s just how he chooses to communicate. Of course it’d be ideal if everyone communicates in a tactful manner, but ultimately you can’t change how others act. You can however, change how you perceive it.  What really matters is the message the person is trying to convey, more than what exactly is being said.

Needless to say, the ones who chose to take comments in negative light put themselves through unnecessary unhappiness. Others who sieved through the words and got to the essence of the message were able to improve based on that feedback. My past experience has made me more perceptive because rather than focusing on exact words that were said, I was listening to what person was communicating. The ability to actively “listen” beyond words is critical for all of us in connecting and building strong relationships.

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Tags: business manners, workplace etiquette, office manners, dealing with difficult people, workplace communications, office etiquette training