Dealing with Negative People: The 1 Option Most People Overlook

Personal Growth | 17 Comments
How to Deal with Negative People

We all have people in our lives who we consider challenging, difficult, or draining. And even though we’d like to distance ourselves from them, there is almost always some level of guilt or sense of responsibility involved.

We want to be respectful.

We want to honor the relationship we have with them, whether they’re a colleague, neighbor, or even more difficult to navigate, a friend or family member.

The challenge, of course, is that distancing yourself from someone while remaining respectful and honoring the relationship can seem impossible.

Let’s take a look at the typical options most people consider when attempting to prune negative people from their lives:

Option #1: Cutting them off completely. This is almost never practical, and it violates the whole “respectful” thing.

Option #2: Avoid the person, or deflect their demands. This is what we usually end up doing. It often leads to embarrassing situations where you’re caught clearly trying to avoid the person, or repeatedly giving them the run-around week after week until they’re too frustrated to deal with you anymore. Neither of those outcomes are what we are seeking.

Option #3: Simply tell them they’re a negative person and you don’t want to be around them. If you were open to this option, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article. Obviously, going this route almost never ends well.

The Alternative: How to Distance Yourself from Negative People with Grace and Compassion

I really believe we can effectively distance ourselves from negative people and simultaneously practice compassion. The two are not mutually exclusive.

We are in charge of our emotions.

We can choose our feelings.

We can change our point of view.

We can change our perceptions.

We can change how we emote, operate, and work with other people utilizing that one simple thing that we are also free to choose—the truth.

You can remain respectful and honor people by telling them the truth. When you try options 1 or 2 listed above, people know something isn’t right. They can sense our discomfort. When we bend the truth, they can tell.

Instead, it’s much more respectful to simply tell them what you are choosing to do with your time and why.

I’ve learned to say, “I really appreciate you asking me and I hope you understand, I’m not going to be able to do it. I have decided that when I’m home, I’m going to be with my family.”

If somebody pushes back or doesn’t understand—and I’ve had that happen a couple of times—I just smile and I say, “I’m so sorry you don’t understand, but again, thank you for asking.”

What are your priorities? What comes first for you?

My very first responsibility is to God. My second responsibility is to my family. After those, I am responsible to my work and friendships.

When you speak the truth about what is most important—your life’s priorities—you are congruent in mind and deed. You don’t need excuses. You don’t need justification. There’s no room or reason for guilt. The items that are highest on your priority list are the very things making you who you are.

So, speak the truth. Speak your truth. Every time you do, you will feel stronger in your conviction about what is right for you.

Determine never to let someone else’s behavior dictate your life. We’ve all been conflicted about who or where to give our attention. But if you can’t say no, you’ll eventually spend most of your time doing things you don’t want to do.

One side note: If you’re having a challenge with someone, personally or professionally, that has escalated to a point where speaking your truth and setting boundaries has not been effective, it may be time to elicit outside help. At the office, you find a mediator. At home, you seek a counselor. Hopefully, your situation will not require such measures, but don’t rule them out.

Should Negative People ALWAYS Be Avoided?

Part of the pain that comes with removing a negative person from your life stems from the fact that we almost always want to help that person! Often, it’s a friend or family member we know is capable of so much more.

After all, I should know. Many years ago, I was that negative person.

If Jones, my mentor during that time, had eliminated negative people from his life, he would have certainly eliminated me.

But Jones didn’t have to consider dropping me from his life. He had reached such a level of awareness and strength of character within himself that I had no influence on him at all. His challenge wasn’t figuring out how to keep me from dragging him down—it was figuring out how to say things that would resonate with me in a way I could understand.Dealing with Negative People

Negative people have often become negative because they’ve hit a low point and are frustrated with life. When Jones found me living under the pier, that was exactly what I was going through.

I was at a place where I desperately needed to eliminate the negative influences in my life, whether they were people, ideas, or perspectives. Jones taught me to look for three qualities in every person, thought, or action:

  • Thinking
  • Learning
  • Growing

If a person didn’t exhibit these three qualities, I didn’t need to spend time around them. If an idea or activity did not lead to these three things, I did not need to spend time on it.

Fast-forward to this point in my life. There are people who are just beginning that same journey as I did years ago. After years of working to achieve the proper perspective, those people will not affect me in a negative way, so I strive to be a Jones to them.

If you think you have the opportunity to help a negative person, and you don’t believe their negativity will drag you down, by all means take it.

You Control How You Relate to the Truth

Remember: you are in control of how you act. That includes what you say, how you say it, and to whom. You make your own decisions. It may take some practice saying no, especially to people you’ve frequently appeased in the past, but you can do it.

Start slowly if you must, but do start. Every time you say no to someone or something that doesn’t feel right, you are saying yes to something else that does.

Question: What have you learned from dealing with negative people? Share your experience, good or bad, in the comments section below.


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  • David & Nikisha Ware

    God orders steps and, if you listen and seek, you will find. I have found the answer and confirmation to an issue that has plagued be for some time now. Sometimes I’m stronger than other times, but this was just what I needed.

  • Desiree

    I am married to a negative man. If he can find something to say or think, he will. I have learned to find my joy in my God. My God says I am beautiful, my God says He is pleased with me, my God says He loves me, even when my husband never does. I look for ways to bless my husband with my words and actions. There are days when I get discouraged but I do not give up. I love my Lord.

    • Desiree… Thanks for taking the time to comment. See the comment below the one I am writing now? What you are experiencing is tough, the perspective you are choosing is valid, but your sharing of it all is helping others. Your note is sad and at the same time, inspiring. While I am sorry about your situation, I appreciate so much the example of how you are choosing to respond. Thanks again and please continue to stay in touch.

    • Kimberly

      Dear Desiree,
      I have been where you have and my heart goes out to you.
      You are in a toxic situation yet I applaud you for choosing healthy responses.
      Your understanding of God’s cherishing you deeply along with your choice to honor your husband despite his lack of loving care to you is not a waste or in vain. God grant you strength as you continue to find joy in His name & truth. He loves you with an everlasting love. He is for you and He hears your prayers for your husband. Sweet Blessings on you.
      ~Kimberly

  • Stacy

    I recently had to distance myself from a negative person. When I realized that my kindness and generosity were being taken advantage of, I started saying no. She stopped speaking to me for 6 months. Out of the blue I received a text last week asking if I was still avoiding. My reply was that I was simply living life and enjoying my family time. Her reply was that she was sorry she was not worth keeping. I did not reply back.

    • In case you are asking… I think you are all good. I wouldn’t have replied to that comment either. It wasn’t intended to restore or seek understanding. It was an arrow shot over the fence to see if someone would yell.

  • i think each of us can benefit from not spending “two hours with two-minute people” and developing the wisdom to make these distinctions. It’s encouraging to know that the first verse of Psalms advises “stay away from scoffers.” Andy, this is a TERRIFIC post! You may have written about this in The Seven Decisions; I would highly recommend your “Becoming a Noticer Audio Program” for those who are struggling with “people that consistently display negative behavior” in their lives. The best short-term advice may very well be to “smile and keep it movin,” separate the behavior from the individual, and/or seek third-party assistance.

  • Lisa Yonkin Brown

    Thank you for this post today! It is just what I needed! I work in an environment where teamwork is stressed, but in general, people are out to either make a name for themselves or are just plain unhappy with themselves and their jobs. I try my very best to maintain emotional distance from most of these people but there are times that the negativity gets me down and I find myself becoming depressed and anxious. Stepping away from the situation and taking some alone prayful time helps. Also your advice of finding a mediator at work helps too. Also, I have recently made the decision to eliminate all but my closest and trusted friends from my social media. It is a fallen world out there, but within my heart I am a loved child of God. That knowledge keeps me moving forward. Thanks Andy!

    • Lisa! I’m on your side. If the social media thing isn’t helping…why do it? Your life is your own! Take charge!

  • Kara Rauscher Tanoory

    My husband and I have 5 amazing children who we are working very hard at raising to be extraordinary adults. One of those children is a swirl of negativity. If things aren’t exactly as she wants them to be–the complaints are endless. It becomes exhausting because the other kids have started noticing their 12 year old sisters negativity–and at times they roll their eyes and avoid conversations with her. Sometimes I ask her to please stop talking unless she has something positive to say. She doesn’t have many friends and I understand because sometimes it’s hard to be around her. My husband and I are devoted to God and family and are positive individuals who want our children to grow up seeing these things through us and those we surround ourselves with. How can I help her trust the benefits of smiling when you talk— seeing the positive side of a situation (even the trying ones).
    Lots of blessings–Kara

    • Kara… Do it. Watch how SHE responds and point it out. Point out other examples too. Be patient, but firm. And stay with it.

  • CL

    Andy,
    I have met you personally over dinner and I have to say your story has changed my life. I once told a friend who was going through a hard situation with an emotionally abusive ex that she shared a child with and because I didn’t understand her situation and her behaviors I texted her and told her I couldn’t deal with her negativity at that time in my life and needed some space and the fact she thought he was going to kill her sounded a little far fetched. I was seeking out pro active things and she just didn’t seem to enjoy them with me. A few months later I got a call that her body had been found with a gunshot wound in the back of her head. No one knows why it happend or if it was murder or suicide but I have struggled with this for some time and now with I have found myself in a similar situation because I tried to understand her pain and grieve her loss at the same time. I was asked by her mother to speak at her funeral because she referred to me as her best friend even though we didnt know each other very long or hadnt spoken in months my question is how do deal with aal situation like this when someone seems to be negative and you let them go but you can never get them back?

    • Wow. CL…so sorry I am just seeing this. For some reason, I just had a whole lot of comments come in on this blog… Anyway, I sure feel for you in this situation. While we have all had things happen that we could not go back and fix, this is obviously especially horrible. In cases like this, I have to make the decision to “give this one to God” knowing that it is beyond my understanding. As tough as it sounds, ultimately we all choose pathways that lead to different things. Those pathways ALWAYS have rewards or consequences. It was true for your friend while she was alive and true for you now. Learn what you can from this, seek any forgiveness you sense is necessary, then forgive yourself. There are people who need you in the game and at your best. My prayers are with you.

  • Tammi

    I will just say thank you for this post. I really needed it to reassure me that it is ok to sometimes do what is hard. I am one who would rather see myself hurt than to hurt someone else. I know this is not healthy for me, and while it will hurt in the beginning, it will be much better for me in in the long run. Again, thank you!

  • marclapidus

    Andy, I have been trying to navigate my mother more effectively for years and its draining! Her best friends are guilt and shame….and she loves to use this quote on me “I guess I’m a terrible mother” and its toxic being around her. My dad passed away some years ago and i bring her lunch every Sunday. She is continuously searching for any shortcoming she can find, and is eager to point them out. Ironically, all her friends tell me how highly she speaks about me to them. I leave there every Sunday asking myself the same question, “fill in the blank” it changes from week to week but I think you get the gist. I find myself getting more frustrated each week and I’m at a point where I’m going to pop emotionally and I do not want to say something I going to regret…..

  • Shawna J. Wright

    Thank you. For years, I was made to feel I was somehow the broken one because I didn’t feel comfortable around loads of negativity nor around the people who spoke it. Unfortunately, these people were my inlaws. And my husband, having grown up around it, didn’t see it as a totally bad thing. But, he surprisingly escaped the tendency and had a wonderfully positive personality. God gave me a beautiful gift, though, and for the last three or four months of my husband’s time here on earth, He opened my husband’s eyes to his parents’ behavior. He truly saw things for what they were and in that he saw me in a different light. He truly took MY side in the situation and showed his parents that he chose me over their negativity. He did so with respect and honor, yet with firmness. I am so blessed by that and I thank God often for it. That said, I am left to deal with it alone. I have to keep my children available for at least some interaction with them since they are grandparents/aunt. But knowing what my husband believed at the end helps tremendously. It has lifted the guilt trip tendencies when I make decisions to protect my family. So I thank you for this affirmation of my decisions in handling this.

  • Linda Shafer Mehrmann

    Thank you Andy. Your book “The Noticer” has made a huge impact with me. You autographed it for me in Dallas at a Seminar. I have passed it on to many. They read it, sign it & I pass on to someone else. Also recommend it to many. I am learning to smile when I talk like you suggested. Also my quote to share is “Love everyone, because behind every smile is a secret sorrow”
    I have been exposed to negativity for years. It can be a challenge. I have started asking the person questions which sometimes changes the way the conversation goes. Fortunately the smiling for me has been a huge break through & not having to make a comment to the negativity is good. Listening is an art, still working on listening. I have much to learn that is for sure. The input has been helpful.

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