Dealing with Negative People

Recently someone asked me what are the key things you need to succeed in business. My reply was that one of those was resilience. To me business resilience is the ability to hang onto the dream even when things are going badly, to stand up every time you fall down, and keeping a perspective and faith that “this too shall pass.” Basically, you’ve got to have the ability to ride the highs and survive the lows. In thinking about my answer, I was really only focussing on the business stuff which is obvious – we run out of money, we burn out, we lack sleep, we get screwed over by a customer. Now that I’ve thought about it a little more, I also think resilience applies to dealing with PEOPLE. Not just the customers or the suppliers but the partners, friends, family members and colleagues who are just full of negative energy. You know the ones – they make snide remarks about “your little business,” or ask in a snarky voice, “have you made your millions yet?” Or you share some happy piece of news – “I got my kitchen registration approved!” and instead of saying, “That’s awesome!” they reply with stuff like, “What did THAT cost you?!” Or possibly they are the partners who resent your time and money going towards something which has nothing to do with them. In short, I’m talking about the people who are not supportive. In this earlier article I talked about the dangers of asking their opinions. What about when it’s not an opinion per se, it’s more a … cloud of negative energy and it’s really bringing you down?

As I see it, you’ve got a few options here.

1.Engage in a conversation with them and get them to respect you and your business. Stand up for yourself in a firm and kind way. Explain why you are doing what you’re doing, and try to get them to see your vision too. This might take more than one conversation, especially with partners who might feel threatened by your business. LOTS of people I meet say their partners are jealous of their business, because they feel the attention is being taken away from them or the family in favour of the business. This is truly my preferred way of dealing with things, to try to get the people who love me to understand that I can be both loving and attentive and still pursue my dreams and interests. In most case the people who bring the negative energy into my life are usually expressing their OWN issues, I’m just the nearest target for them. The majority of people will never be brave enough to follow their dreams, pursue their passions, or take the risks of quitting a job to start a business or even start a business at all. And yet, there you are, doing exactly that..and it irks them. They don’t want to honestly admit to themselves that it sucks to see someone doing what they wish they could do, they try to cut you down instead. The key to these kinds of conversations is to acknowledge their feelings, and keep yours out of it.  One woman I know actually did a short PowerPoint presentation to show her partner what the benefits to her business would be.

2. Ignore them entirely, and continue to do your own thing. F- them! This is easier said than done, and in my experience it depends on who it is. Some random acquaintance you don’t see very often is easy to ignore, your mother is not. I will say that even if you choose to have the “you ned to respect me” conversation with them, there will still be times when you need to ignore things because people are people and even with the best intentions they still say stupid stuff. This one is a HARD lesson for me personally to learn. My instinct is to respond to everything, all the time – I’ve got a big mouth and a sharp tongue and I’m not afraid to use it. It’s taken me a long time to become that duck who lets the water slide right off her back and to learn that sometimes my sharp responses make a situation worse, not better. These days I take a split second after they’ve finished speaking to decide if it’s worth my time and energy to respond. If it’s not, I mentally shrug and think, “Whatever, screw them,” and then I either walk away or change the subject. The lesson here is: not every idiotic remark requires a response. 

3. Remove that person from your life. Either literally (divorce, let the friendship fade, change positions etc) or situationally remove them so you do not allow conversations with them about your business.  Sometimes you simply can’t get rid of people, so in those cases I declare a “no go” zone with them. “Shannon, every time we talk about my business we end up arguing, so let’s just put that topic on the “no go” list,” and then every time they bring it up (or you want to), divert the conversation elsewhere. I use this tactic for talking politics with my family. As soon as it becomes clear we are not going to see eye-to-eye, that open discussion isn’t respectful and the conversation is going to deteriorate into something I’m going to regret, I say, “Let’s just agree to disagree on this and move on,” and then sometimes, you then have to be the stronger person to keep that line in the sand clearly marked.

There are enough things about small business which are hard enough. You really don’t need people with negative energy in your sphere but sometimes it’s unavoidable. These people or conversations sometimes crop up when you least expect them. A few weeks ago I ran into an old acquaintance – a sister-in-law of a friend I’m not in contact with anymore.  Bear in mind, I ran into her at a co-working space for female entrepreneurs. She opened the conversation with, “Michelle! Wow! What are you doing here? I thought you run some little cookie business or something?” O. M. G. I wanted to punch her right then – especially because she said it in such a condescending tone. I really, REALLY wanted to come back at her with a whole shouty-and-indignant list of the stuff I’ve achieved… but then I had that moment when I remembered she was not worth my time or energy. Instead I smiled and said, “I sold that business a few years ago and now run a business teaching others how to be successful business owners. Nice seeing you but I’ve got work to do, bye!” and walked away.

Some people are worth trying to turn around and others are not..and then there are the special snowflakes who are born grumpy and will stay that way no matter how hard you try. The key for you is to remember that you get to control how that negative energy affects you – they don’t get to thieve your happiness, joy, ambition or excitement no matter how hard they try. It’s not theirs to take in the first place.

One thought on “Dealing with Negative People

  1. Beautifully said Michelle! It’s the snide comments, or the passive aggressive statements that gets me. Sadly I still get them but I think it comes with maturity (not age) when you finally say to yourself, I am going to listen to the 99 compliments and not the 1 negative statement. Am nearly there! Hugs!

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