Friday, February 10, 2012

Life Skill: Dealing with Negativity or, Rights and Responsibilities

Recently someone on a Linked In group I belong to wondered how to deal with negativity. Tonnes of people commented on the issue. Many people tried to avoid negativity. Some tried to shower negativity with positivity. Others posted specific activities to try to keep negativity at bay. Here's what I've decided...

Address the negative or it takes root in your shadow.

I'm not sure where I heard this or if I made it up at 3am while tossing and turning, trying to fall asleep one night. Nevertheless, it's helped me remember what I've learned recently.

Negativity means something is not right somewhere. Negativity presents an opportunity for us to learn, grow and evolve if we are willing to face it and understand it. Of course not everyone sees it this way. Not everyone is ready to see it this way. But the only way to really deal with negativity is to actually deal with it. End of story. If you try to avoid it, it will follow you around, get under your skin and ultimately bring you down.

Well that's just fine and dandy. I now have a nice little phrase to remind myself to deal with the negative. Easier said than done. So I had to break it down even more.

Negativity is a human thing. It's a judgement we make as to whether things are good or bad. Frankly speaking, we make it up. We continue to judge good or bad throughout the day, every day. If we start judging more and more things as bad over the course of time, we can't help but get negative. The trick is finding the root of the negativity. Did it begin in my mind, or in yours? And then addressing it compassionately and with the intent to right the balance of good versus bad judgements.

It is true that many strive for no judgement at all. And even though I don't know many people who are able to achieve this for any length of time, I'm more perplexed by the idea of removing judgement completely. My ego and my feelings are what's helping me learn and grow. This is a uniqueness of being human. People who proudly announce that they've achieved a state of no judgement are sadly, just too smug for their own good. Their over-confidence belies their naivity. But I digress...

So getting back to skills and strategies for dealing with negativity face to face.

If it's a negative reaction in me, I need to first assess my feelings and my ego. Is my negativity a red flag waiving about potential danger or fear ahead? Evaluate: Is it REALLY a fearful or dangerous situation?

If the negativity comes from another person, I need to assess the situation from their point of view and communicate my desire to restore balance. What might they be afraid of or unhappy about? Is there any action I can take to help regain their respect and trust? Are they willing to connect to the deeper issue and work together with me to find a solution?

If I've checked in with my own negative thoughts, tried communicating with the other person but things have still not improved, then the next best thing is to try to negotiate and define some relationship boundaries with the individual. By expressing (privately and with reverence) my needs for a more positive relationship/environment I can train people to treat me with more respect. While this won't likely solve or remove the root cause of negativity, it can offer a protective shield and keep their negativity at bay.

There is real value in knowing all three of these techniques for dealing with negativity. Everyone has the right to a respectful (ie positive) work environment. Everyone also has the responsibility to contribute to a respectful work environment. (A note to optimists trying to eradicate pessimism with heavy doses of positivity - the perception is that you are avoiding or ignoring the issue and therefor being disrespectful.)

If I model the behaviour I expect in return there's a good chance that things will improve. I am human though, so mistakes are possible. If I goof up, I must be willing to own up and apologise. A relationship is an exchange. It is a two way street. Both sides of a relationship have rights as well as responsibilities.

If BE-ing the change does not have the desired effect, then I would have to respect my own boundaries, accept the things that cannot change and move on.

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