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the emotional effect: how to deal with others' negativity


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?

Comments

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Thanks for the wonderful post. Dealing with other people's negativity can be tough. I like your rule of focusing on yourself. If you let their negativity get to you and you get frustrated, then things just become worse. If you can focus on yourself and just remain calm, you can make things better.

Dani, great tips!

If only we didn't have to deal with other people's negativity (or our own for that matter!). I find connecting with myself is important - how am I reacting? what am I feeling? what's missing for me in this situation?

Sometimes I find it helps to confront the neagtivity (not always ..depends on the context).

In this situation I might have said something like "Looking around at the face expressions in this room I'm feeling really tense right now. I'd love to have more enjoyment in this meeting and I'm wondering if anyone else is feeling something similar?"

Some good practical tips here Dani. I find trying to be aware that I don't have to let other people's moods / emotions affect me really helps, but like you I do pick up on atmosphere's easily. Meditation is a big help to me too ... it sets me up for the day and I notice I generally react more calmly on days I practice it.

Faizal - You're welcome! It's definitely hard to deal with others' negativity sometimes, but it's important to focus on yourself and how you're feeling. When you really get to the heart of what you're experiencing personally, the reactions and emotions of others won't get to you as much.

Ian - Thanks! It would be great if we didn't have to deal with negativity, but we do need it to balance out the positive aspects of life. I definitely agree that negativity should be confronted in most situations. Ignoring or avoiding emotions is usually a bad idea -- unless they're not your emotions and they shouldn't be transferred to you. Many times we do need to be in touch with the emotional states of others, but in this case, I really had to do my best to avoid all of the negativity rubbing off on me.

Jen - Thank you. It's hard sometimes not to pick up on what others are experiencing, but you've mentioned a word that really sticks out to me: aware. When we are aware of our own state as well as the states of others, we can work to find a balance between listening to our own emotions and understanding the emotions of others. I've heard such great things about meditation and I really need to give it a try!

What in the hell is happening with your office? I mean first that other incident and now this...

The way I always dealt with office drama was to have an office friend that I could vent to. There is nothing like feeling you are alone to make it worse. (But only one friend because otherwise you become the office gossip.)

I also read a lot of Dilbert (you can subscribe!) and, um, started a personal development blog.

Hayden - Haha, a lot apparently! It's not necessarily drama, it's just people are tense about work stuff and I just need to find ways not to let it get to me. Hopefully things will calm down after today. Thanks for the tips! :)

Another thing you can do is be aware of the cause of the negativity in others. What makes the nervous? If you know the reason you can understand how to cope with the negativity and how to make sure it does not effect you.

Mantras are powerful -- they can help remind us of what we want to accomplish.

That's one of my most important questions always -- "What do you want to accomplish?"

Great post! I also agree with Quinn...sometimes if you can empathize with how the others in your situation are feeling, it helps you to realize that those are their own feelings. And although you can understand why they feel the way they do, you can also recognize that you don't feel the same way.

Also, good for you for focusing on the positive - hopefully your good energy was passed on to others in the room and created it's own butterfly effect :)

You know, it really is all about focusing on yourself. That's not to say I don't try to be sympathetic or helpful or what have you, but I try my hardest not to let their negativity kill my joy. When that happens, I quite literally have to remove myself from the situation. Putting my mental health first is something I've slowly but surely learned over the past several years. Great post!!

Quinn - That's an excellent point. When you start thinking about why it is that others are reactiving negatively (as well as why it's affecting you), you can be much better prepared to handle the situation. Thanks!

J.D. - Yes they are. I think that's a great question to ask yourself and it can be so useful in variety of situations.

Eran - Thanks! It's good sometimes to try to empathize (depending on the situation), but you bring up a great point about how, while you can understand why others are feeling a certain way, you need to recognize that you don't have to feel that way as well. I'm trying to have a good attitude during this very stressful week at work so hopefully it's rubbing off on others!

Carolyn - It really is. It sounds selfish, but the better you understand yourself and what's going on with you, the better you'll be in terms of interacting with others. It's hard to do sometimes, but you have to put yourself first and not allow others to bring you down. I'm glad you're on the same page with me on this point!

Breathe. Big deep breaths. And going to my happy place. That generally helps me.

Great tips Dani.

Excellent tips Dani! The breathing and mantra is what I would use (in a meeting situation, probably more mantra and less breathing, as you suggested ;-)

Perfect picture for this!

I agree with you--sometimes we have to distance ourselves, maybe even break the relationship. Often negativity multiplies, and we can find ourselves in situations where we're unwittingly enabling.

Thanks, another very thoughtful article.

k

Sami - Deep breaths + a happy place sound like a great solution to the problem I found myself in. Thanks for sharing your insights!

Hilda - Thanks! I definitely feel like deep breaths or repeating a mantra can really help to calm yourself when you're in a tough situation. Thanks for commenting!

Kaushik - Glad you liked it! I thought it was pretty fitting. I agree that sometimes we have to remove ourselves completely from a negative situation. When we can't, we have to do what we can to make the best of it (as I tried to do here). Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

Hi Dani,

Great conversation to have...because negativity is definitely out there. My favorite part of what worked for you is the idea of focusing on yourself. Because in each situation we get to "choose" how we will respond or how we will show up. Reminds me of Stephen Covey's Habit One: Be Proactive. Of course there are all kinds of things in life that we can't control, but we most certainly do have the power to choose.

And that's what works best for me when I'm in a situation with negative energy, too. I pause to remind myself that it's about where 'they' are in life...and let them be there. Then I make sure to bring my cheerful self to the table and not allow any of that negativity in. Oh, and I also don't watch the news. :)

Thanks for getting the conversation started!

Michelle

I thought this post was great. I love your blog, it's really helping me to become a better me. I'm learning a lot from it and I'm starting to improve my state of mind. Thankyou so much for words of advice, you are truely an inspiration.
At the moment I am trying to improve on my confidence because it's intefering with my everyday life. I've had feelings for a friend of mine for years now and the feelings are unreturned, he's actually interested in my best friend. I'm constantly comparing myself to others and feeling worthless. Would you have any advice for me of getting over it?
Thanks again for your blog, great job

-Pepper

Thanks for a great post! Most of the time, I can avoid hanging on to hurt feelings by understanding that it's not about me. Their crap is their crap. And then distance yourself as much as possible.

The best way to deal with this sort of situation is to understand that you have no control over others, only yourself. You did the right things by focusing on your own positive thoughts!

Michelle - Unfortunately there can be a lot of negativity in the world and sometimes, no matter how much we might want to, we cannot avoid it. We definitely have a choice about how we respond; we can't control others but we can control ourselves. Thanks for bringing up the point about letting others be where they are. It's a great way of thinking about it.

Pepper - Thank you so much for your wonderful comment. You made my day! :) I'm so happy you like Positively Present and that it's been helping you. Remember, I'm no expert, but as far as that guy goes, my advice would be this: If he doesn't want to be with you, you have to stop wanting to be with him. There's someone awesome out there for you who really wants to be with you too so I would focus on finding that person rather than wasting any more time on a guy who doesn't return your feelings. I always tell myself, "If it's meant to be, it will work out." Whoever you're meant to be with will find you and you won't think about that guy anymore!

Meg - Thank you! It's a great point you bring up -- to remember that it's not about you. Just because others are in a bad mood or stressed, doesn't mean it has to do with you. It's good to think about it like that: "their crap is their crap."

Steve - Yes, great point! We can only control ourselves (which is what I was working on doing in the situation) and we must realize that we cannot control the emotions/actions of others. Focusing on myself and positive thoughts definitely helped me and I hope it helps others who find themselves in similar situations!

hey Dani, sometimes when I am in challenging situations, I like to just smile. I know it really helps me focus on myself.

and mantras !

great post !

Dani, great tips as always. It's so unpleasant to be in a tension-filled room. I haven't experienced it in a while but I recall physically removing myself from the room at least a few times in my life. It often helps remind people that they've created a negative environment and sometimes helps them calm down.

Good post. It is easy to succumb to the emotions of a group of people. Awareness is key to maintaining our mood and composure. We have the opportunity to change others with our energy. Want to see how one person can change a crowds energy and mood rent the movie "12 Angry Men", there are many lessons in this movie that you can apply to your daily life.

Rocky - Smiling's my favorite! (As the character in the movie Elf says). It really is a great way to make yourself feel happier (and potentially make others happier as well). Great suggestion!

Belinda - Thanks! It really is an unpleasant experience and I've had to do it much more often than I would like these days. It's great if you can physically remove yourself for a bit, but sometimes it's not an option and we have to make the best of it. Very good point about reminding others about the negative environment they're creating.

Mark - Thank you. Awareness is definitely so important when it comes to managing our emotions and dealing with the emotional states of others. I'll have to check out that movie!

For me..negative situations and how I deal with them have a lot to do with who I am dealing with...and what the exact situation is. I rarely find myself swayed by a negative person...I usually can try to put them in a better mood...or just let it go, get out, turn them off...

However..if it's with someone I have personal history with...it get's more complicated for me. I can, in the beginning, keep myself on a positive track...but if there is no end, or things escelate with the other person...I start to lose my cool...so to speak.
If I am in a not so good mood to begin with...I lose it nearly right off the bat..
I'm learning though...and I get better at it. It's like anything else...practice practice practice...

Dawn - I agree that this depends a lot on the situation. You're going to act a lot differently toward your best friend's negativity than you would toward a room full of your coworkers. I agree that sometimes it can be a lot harder with people you are close with but, as you said, practice really helps!

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