Identifying the negative people in your life is the easy part. The real work begins when you try to get along with them. Trying to have a meaningful conversation with a difficult individual who is self-focused, disagreeable, or explosive is far from pleasant and requires good boundaries and hard work.
Difficult personality types exist within a behavioral continuum that is best described as "compensatory." Included in this gamut you can find extremes like the explosive personality who can become violent with little provocation or the steamroller that has a driving need to feel superior. More common negative personalities include the whiner who perpetually sees his own glass as half-empty and the procrastinator who has difficulty making decisions and sidesteps responsibility.
All negative personality types engage in compensatory behaviors in an effort to feel better about themselves. The whiner is the eternal pessimist who enjoys the attention that others lavish on him as he acts out the role of the injured party. The procrastinator postpones decisions out of a fear of making the wrong choice. The steamroller feels superior and powerful as he bullies his target, while the explosive personality abuses others to compensate for low self esteem.
In any case, if you are the one dealing with one of these negative individuals, you become the object of his counterbalancing behavior and often end up being emotionally manipulated. You're either being set up to bear the brunt of his disenchantment with life, or expected to offer copious amounts of sympathy that will inflate his ego. Aside from feeling truly sorry for an individual who is obviously so unhappy in his own skin, there are some definite "dos" and "don'ts" for dealing with his negative behaviors.
Don't take ownership of a negative person's problems. Being treated unfairly and dealing with disappointments is a part of life. Each of us gets to choose how we deal with the unpleasant aspects of life. Unless you are a negative person's counselor, don't get sucked into his problems.
Don't be drawn into an argument that puts you on the defensive. Protracted logic doesn't generally penetrate a negative mind set and often makes is worse. Never do verbal battle with an abusive personality. Save your constructive criticism for another time.
Don't show any sign of intimidation if you are verbally or emotionally abused. Showing that you can be intimidated only gives an unpleasant person more negative power.
Don't offer personal advice. A negative individual will hold you responsible when things don't work out "the way you said they would."
Don't insult or talk down. Negative or not, everyone deserves to be respected.
Do be a good listener and resist the temptation to confront.
Do paraphrase or reflect back what you think you are hearing. When negative person really has the opportunity to hear how he is being perceived, it can sometimes create a climate for change.
Do call the individual by name and give them eye contact.
Do look for ways to help the "whiner" or "steamroller" take ownership of his own behavior.
Do take control of the outcome of the conversation by asking one of these three questions:
"What do you think you might do about it?"
"Have you thought about your options for dealing with this?"
"How do you want this conversation to end?"
An explosive personality type is the most dangerous of all negative personalities. Staying safe is always the most important thing to remember about dealing with one. You can listen, validate his feelings, and even request that he speak in a more respectful tone. When he is escalating, however, save your input for later and be prepared to walk away and/or summon help if necessary.
A procrastinator must ultimately learn to take ownership of his own responsibilities and learn to act more decisively. Enabling him is never the answer.
A steamroller or whiner, whether consciously aware of it or not, is engaging you because he wants you to meet some undisclosed need in his life. If you know this going into a conversation it will save you the fruitless effort of cajoling, pleading, lecturing, or worse yet, being put on the defensive, while trying to change his negative perspective. You can show respect, listen, and let him hear what he is really saying. You can challenge him to take ownership of his own negativity by asking him what he can do to change his situation.
No matter what kind of negative personality you are dealing with, there comes a time when you've done all that you can do and it's time to walk away from a difficult situation. As you're walking away, breathe out the negative stuff that you've been dealing with and tell yourself this: "No matter what's up ahead in my own future I will never be described by those who love me, as a negative person."