The other day as I was sitting in a meeting I could, for the first time, fully appreciate the phrase "you could cut the tension with a knife." Everyone in the room was nervous, tense. There were anxiously rapid eye movements, toes tapping, and legs jiggling. There were people shifting in their seats and shifting the tones of their voices. It was intense -- and it was stressing me out. I thought to myself, "How in the world can I be positive in this situation when everyone in this room is so anxious?" I'd gone into the meeting with a perfectly calm, perfectly upbeat attitude, and suddenly I'd felt my good mood draining. I had to find a way to deal with the situation before I became a finger-tapping, voice-raising mess.
I'm sure you've been in similar situations -- situations in which everyone in a room is in a much different state of mind than you are. If the energy of others is negative, it can really affect you. I, for one, am quite prone to picking up on the tone and mood of others and I know it can change my mood completely when someone else is in a negative place. When I found myself stuck in this meeting, I realized that there had to be a way to stay where I was (I didn't have much choice at that point) while still staying calm. Here's what I did...
How To Cope With Others' Negativity
Focus on yourself. As I was I was sitting in that meeting, nearly going crazy from all of the tension I could feel floating around the room, I thought to myself, "How do I bring this back to me? How do I get away from the emotions of others and focus instead on my own emotional state?" I began asking myself the following questions: How are you feeling right now? How is your body reacting to the emotions of others? How do you want your body to react? What do you really think of the situation? How can you focus more on your own thoughts and less on the reactions of others? Once I started asking myself these questions and redirecting my focus to myself instead of to the others in the room, I began to feel a lot better. I realized that I was actually feeling just fine and that I couldn't let their negative energy take away from my pleasant mood.
Use a mantra or phrase. A lot of people find it very helpful to have a key word or phrase that they can use whenever they're feeling stressed out. I've found that this usually works for me. I try to focus on whatever I want to be -- such as calm or positive -- and repeat the word to distract me from whatever negative situation is going on around me. It can really help you focus on what's happening within you (rather than external factors) and gives you a way to center yourself. Another way to do this would be to take deep, calming breaths (though this is a bit harder when you're in a situation like a meeting; it's hard to take deep breaths in a board room without looking like you're hyperventilating...). Repeating a mantra (in your head) or taking deep breaths can really help you to focus and calm down, guiding you away from negative emotions around you.
Remove yourself mentally. When you find yourself in a tough spot, sometimes you have to remove yourself from the situation mentally. While I'm not for avoiding negative situations all together (see Monday's post on the 3:1 ratio), I do think sometimes you have to give yourself a break and let your mind vacate certain situations. If you can remove the negativity from yourself by removing your mental state from the negative place you've found yourself in, you'll probably gain a lot more clarity about the situation and how it's make you (not others) feel. If you're tremendously bothered by a situation, sometimes it helps to remove yourself from it (even if you can't do so in a physical way) by doing your best to think of more positive things. I'm not suggesting you tune out every time you have to deal with something hard, but if the negativity of others is overwhelming you, sometimes it's okay to take a mental time out.
Realize it will end. In my experience, I've found that it's essential to remember that the difficult or negative situation you find yourself in will eventually end. As obvious as this might sound, it's so important to keep that in mind as you make your way through whatever the situation is. By reminding yourself that this situation will, at some point, be over, you're giving yourself the opportunity to keep the particular situation in perspective. When you're surrounded by negativity, it's very important to put it in perspective because, as you know, keeping it in perspective will help you keep your cool -- even if no one else in the situation seems to be able to.
Of course, it wasn't all that easy to do these things. It can actually be really difficult to remove yourself from the emotional states of others. I'm sure you've all heard of "the butterfly effect" and I think of this emotion transfer as very similar to that. One person's emotional state can have a ripple effect that travels from person to person. For example, let's say someone in that meeting I was in was very tense and then I became tense because of that. I could take my tense-ness out of the meeting and make someone else tense too. See how that works? It could go on forever that way if we don't make an effort to keep a safe distance from the emotional states of others.
On the flip side, it's important to remember that you can also catch the positive emotions coming from others so if you want to be more positive, surround yourself with people who are positive! You can't always choose who you surround yourself with (for example, at work), but often you do have a choice. If people are bringing you down and making you feel negative, you need to really think about the purpose of those people in your life. If someone is an overall drain, you're probably better off without him or her. However, if you just find yourself in a bad situation or with a normally positive person who happens to be in a funk, look to the suggestions above and give them a try. Negativity isn't 100% avoidable, but there are definitely ways to deal with it that will make even the worst situations more productive and bearable.
What do you do when you find yourself in a negative situation?
Do you have any helpful tips for dealing with others' negativity?