Negativity Breeds Negativity
Recently I was running a group and many of the participants were seemingly having an off day, being very negative, which generally is okay because it’s their group and their feelings. While I am the moderator, it’s not about my feelings. I may use motivational interviewing to try and challenge the way they are thinking, however pushing my positivity on their negative mindset in such situations is almost always a losing battle, here’s why.
Countering someone’s negativity with your positivity doesn’t work because it’s argumentative. Even if it comes from a place (which is does) of compassion, empathy, and love, they are not in the right place or mindset to understand or hear it. You simply cannot challenge someone’s emotional mindset, telling someone how they should or should not feel is not going to work. No one wants to feel contradicted, like their feelings are not valid, justified, or warranted, and let’s be honest, we have all had moments where we have been made to feel like our feelings weren’t justified and it’s not a stellar feeling, right? If you’re a group moderator or leader trying to be positive, it sometimes comes off even worse because you may appear out of touch, standoffish, or simply unaware or uneducated to the reality that people are experiencing.
In turn, we don’t want to confront someone’s negativity with our own feelings of negativity, because then we are simply adding fuel to the fire so to speak. As we know, negativity breeds negativity. So you may be thinking, how on earth can we turn negativity around?
You can turn negativity around, be it in your own thoughts or in a situation with others. It’s a fairly simple process but you must train yourself to do it, like with anything else it takes practice. It works if you put the time and energy in, and you will likely find yourself happier, less stressed, and becoming overall more positive in most situations.
First, you must understand how the person with the negative feelings feel, and validate it. This may be hard, you may feel as though you are reinforcing their negative feelings, but I assure you, that is not the case. You are neither agreeing with them nor justifying their negativity. You are simply letting them know and showing them, that you understand how they feel. Validation.
You may find a place to agree with the feeling. You don’t have to agree with everything that they’ve said. You may agree with some of what they are feeling, agree if you can, if you can agree with some of their feelings and frustrations, and share that with them.
Find out what they are positive about and reinforce it. You are not trying to persuade them to be positive or to pull positivity out of them. Most people will have something positive to say as well if you listen. It means hearing them, giving them attention, to any and all feelings they may have. Chances are they will show some because it’s unusual in human nature to find people who are purely negative. If you come across someone who is purely negative, make sure they are getting the support they need, check in often. When you get the positive feelings, the idea when is to give positive attention to these positive feelings and to offer concrete feelings of hope moving forward. You can call them concrete since they are based on feelings that an individual already has.
Negativity breeds negativity. I have witnessed it first hand, the way one person can have a domino effect on a corporate office, a group member can change the vibe of a an entire group for the session, a family member can ruin a good time for all, a politician can divide a country. I have also seen people who try to fix everything with positivity rather than trying to understand the feelings behind the situation at hand, and I have seen those positive “fixers” be told to take a hike more times than I can count. It’s not that the negative person doesn’t appreciate you. However, in that moment – they can’t, because they just want to be heard, understood, and listened too. Perhaps their feelings are justified, or maybe they aren’t, but until we listen to each other and understand, how can we push our feelings and beliefs onto one another? Negativity spreads like wildfire, but perhaps if we all step back and listen and truly hear one another rather than trying to tell one another what we think they should do or to stay positive, people would be less negative and perhaps, just maybe, we could all be a little happier.