We all have bad days – days that make us cross with the world and all in it. It’s when this becomes the way we generally feel that we have a problem – one that badly affects our relationships, careers, health and, therefore, happiness.
Negativity is self-perpetuating – the more hard done by you seem to feel, the more other negative people will be drawn to commiserate with you and the more positive people will draw away from you.
You don’t even have to open your mouth for them to sense your negativity. Durban leadership coach Cathy Yuill says, ‘People give off a “vibe” that’s linked to how they’re feeling. If you’re constantly negative, it influences every space you’re in and others will pick it up.’ Negative people tend to slouch, sigh, snap and scowl. They come across as unfriendly, supercritical or defeatest – ‘not possible’ is a phrase they love, says Yuill.
Makheni Motana, a Johannesburg motivational speaker and coach, adds that negative people are ‘little thunderclouds’ who not only complain a lot but are full of excuses and quick to lay blame.
Not the sort of person you’d be keen to befriend, spend time with or promote at work.
‘If you’re often negative, you stand to lose a lot in life and love, and at work,’ says Motana.
Your health is likely to suffer too. Negative feelings have been shown to result in ulcers, a lowered immune system, high blood pressure and, in time, depression, says Yuill.
On a more positive note, experts say you can train yourself to be less negative. Although we can’t control what life brings our way, we can control how we react to it. ‘The outside world doesn’t give you a negative attitude – you choose it,’ says Yuill.
Negative people are often pessimists and worriers, says Motana. They focus on problems – the bad salary, the horrible boss, the dull boyfriend. ‘The brain can only focus on one thing at a time, and too much energy spent concentrating on negative things will shut off creative, solution-seeking behaviour.’
Yuill says if you’re feeling excluded by those around you, you should look at your own behaviour rather than theirs. ‘Ask yourself what you’re doing to make people react to you in that way. If you’re unsure, ask someone. Then give some thought to why you’re behaving the way you are and what your options are.’
She recommends compiling a list of things you’d like to change and working on them daily. If you are prone to bitchiness, resolve to bite your tongue more often. Instead of allowing yourself to dwell on the weak points of the ‘idiots’ you work with, notice their good qualities. Watch the language you use: for every negative comment you make, say something positive straight afterwards – ‘until you get used to how optimism sounds’.
Motana suggests trying to think in terms of solutions. When a problem arises, instead of blaming it on bad luck or someone else, see it as an opportunity to come up with remedies.
It’ll take practice, she adds. ‘Attitudes are a kind of habit. The only way to change a bad one is to choose a new, more positive behaviour every day for 21 days. On day 22, the mood you’ve chosen will become your “default” mode.’
That’s only three weeks to a you who’ll be nicer to know!
DEALING WITH NEGATIVE PEOPLE
• Point out, without being aggressive, when they’re being negative – they often don’t realise they’re doing it.
• Be careful not to get sucked into their pessimism. The moment they start making you feel low, move on.
• Treat them in the friendly manner you’d treat everyone else. If their reaction is a downer, walk away and try again later.
• Don’t echo their negativity – it will just encourage them.
• Don’t spend a long time listening to their grumbles, especially not at work – your superiors may see you as guilty of the same attitude.