What’s a negative connection? According to Terry’s Unabridged Common-Sense Dictionary, a negative connection is a person who is proficient in finding the cloud in every silver lining. It’s that person we can always count on to deliver a good gully-washer on even the sunniest of days. 

Do you have negative people in your life? Are you the negative person in someone else’s life? One of life’s greatest challenges is to stay up in a down world. However, there’s a big difference between an occasional down mood (with the down interactions that go with it) and being a chronic grumbler, complainer and naysayer. 

As we know, such a negative connection can kill a home or workplace environment, or really any other environment! A negative attitude is contagious! So, what are the best ways to unplug these negative environments, not the individuals, in our lives? Here are three practical suggestions:

Be compassionate. You may be thinking: “Negative people drive me crazy! Sometimes I just wanna smack ‘em (co-worker, boss, spouse, child, friend). How can I smack ‘em compassionately?” We’ve all had that temptation, I’m sure-- but would such an extreme reaction help? Not likely. 

Consider this: When a person is negative, it’s NOT for NO reason. Is the reason justifiable? Who knows? But often negativity comes from someone who is unfulfilled, unhappy or suffering in some way. They’re generally not trying to be negative; they might not be putting forth the necessary effort to stay positive in a tough situation.

We would all do well to keep in mind the approach that Fred Rogers took when dealing with negative people. He would say, “But I wonder what was going on in that’s person’s day.” We could add to that the words of author Mary Lou Kownacki, “There isn't anyone you couldn't love once you've heard their story.”

Don’t take it personally. There’s an old line about the football fan who left the game early because every time one of the teams huddled, he thought they were talking about him. Though that’s certainly a bit hypersensitive, perhaps the humor brings us back to a possibility we often ignore: if we are engaged in conversation with someone who is being negative -- even if the negative comments are directed specifically at us -- it is possible that the words are the result of “what was going on in that’s person’s day (life).” They should not be internalized.

Be the bigger person. These days, there’s lots of talk about COVID immunizations. You may have heard that, due of social distancing guidelines, health care providers are not actually giving shots. Instead they’re just launching vaccine darts at recipients from six feet away! With that bit of nonsense, consider this: COVID is not the only contagion we have to deal with. Negativity is also contagious. The difference between the two is that we have total control over whether we catch the contagious negativity. Our vulnerability or connection to negativity involves a few choices.

First, we can choose to be enthusiastic people, regardless. I know it’s difficult, especially while in the midst of negativity, but it’s not impossible. Dale Carnegie had the solution: “Act enthusiastic, and you will be enthusiastic.” The moment a negative person starts to kill our enthusiasm, we’re vulnerable to their attitude. So, we should act enthusiastic. We look them in the eye, smile, maintain open body language and say something positive.

Secondly, we can choose to confront the negativity, carefully and compassionately. I like to take this approach with complainers: I sincerely express sympathy, and then I ask them what they think they might do about the situation. I resist assuming responsibility for their problem.

In confronting a highly agitated person, this alternate approach can be effective: Let the person vent. Then with understanding and compassion, call them by name and calmly say, “I understand. Do you feel like your reaction is helping the situation?” 

With each approach, who is in control? Who’s the bigger person? Whoever that person is, he/she controls the environment and the impact of that negative connection. Are these approaches effective 100% of the time? No, but they are simply suggestions that can make us better people and better people connectors.

PEOPLE CONNECTOR: If you find yourself connected to negativity, unplug before it can overpower you.