Negative Nancies

This post is totally selfish (though, really, aren't they all?). Lately, I've had a negativity problem. At work, with friends, with family. It seems like negativity, primarily in the form of complaints, is everywhere. Maybe it's the season? But isn't it a little early for seasonal depression?

Negativity Monster

Negativity Monster

Source 1 - The Cat. If he isn't eating or sleeping, he's meowing. The only time he stops is to purr while I pet him. Come home from work and he's meowing, demanding attention. On weekday mornings, he's meowing as soon as he realizes I'm really getting up. Weekends are worse - he's meowing in my face and poking at me by seven, demanding I get out of bed and do something. Feed him? Nope that's full. Refresh littler box? Nope, that's fine. Is he in pain? Nope, just meowing.

Source 2 - Friends. It seems like some of my friendships revolve entirely around complaining. Complaining about work, complaining about other friends, complaining about family, complaining about boys. What is the point of our relationships? To make each other miserable? Oh, you're having a good day? Not after our chat over drinks after work!

Source 3 - Work colleagues. This is the big one. While I really like the majority of people I work with - and how important is that to job satisfaction - there are a couple of guys who just always have something to complain about, no matter the topic: Everyone else on the team is stupid. He isn't getting enough responsibility. Then he's getting too much responsibility. There's too much work or not enough. No job security or he's overloaded. There's never seems to be anything happy in anything. Even free food! He often complains about the food provided in meetings. And the free coffee the office provides. If there's free healthy food for something, he complains it isn't sweet or savory. If it's cake and soda, he's suddenly on a diet. But then you actually talk to him about we can improve the process, improve the team, he is out of solutions, just devolves to bitching about the current state of things. And maybe he doesn't want stuff fixed - he likes having something to complain about!

I have tried several approaches - being positive and finding that silver lining no matter what, ignoring the negative comments and just continuing with the conversation, being negative back and just adding to the shit pile, and finally, just saying 'oh that sucks'. None of it works. The positive attitude just makes the Negative Nancy find something else to bitch about. Ignoring the negativity just makes it pop back up later. Being negative in response just brings me down. Saying 'oh that sucks' somehow seems like an invitation to keep bitching to me, even if I am burying my nose in my computer screen and typing away.

So I need to admit to myself - Negative Nancies exist. They are assholes, their main form of communication is to bitch about something, usually something beyond their control. Friends, okay, I can manage them by minimizing the contact or changing the conversation. But those at work or the checkout at the grocery store or anyone else I am legally or socially required to interact with? I need to face the truth: These people exist and I have to know how to handle them in a way that doesn't give me an ulcer or make me pick up a bottle of wine on the way home.

So how?

The number one Google search is avoid them. Well, that is not always an option. Next?

This list provides what I have discovered to be common recommendations: don't engage, hang out in groups, switch topics, minimize time with the Nancies, try to make a positive change in his/her life, or drop them. These aren't necessarily super helpful for a workplace situation, since you are pretty much stuck with him/her, but it is useful for friends and acquaintances. It also includes this quote from Jim Rohn - you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with - that I like. A reason to be more mindful of those with which you spend your time!

Over at Life Hack, there are similar tips: avoid arguments, empathize with them, stick to the light topics, offer help, praise the person for the positive stuff, be responsible for your reactions, and, the ever popular, avoid them. The most helpful here, for me, is to own your response. Yes, Nancy is frustrating, but I'm the one that allows him to put me into a bad mood. I can own that, even if I can't manage his negativity. Just acknowledging that I have the power of my own reaction, I think, is helpful. 

WikiHow has some handy pictures to go along with its list: in the short term, provide support, don't engage, use positive questions, steer the conversation to happier topics, help the person improve the situation. For long term, identify the Negative Nancies, avoid lecturing to these people, act instead of react, point out the positives, hang out in groups, take responsibility for your own happiness, evaluate the person's role in your life. And of course - avoid the person. Mostly reiterations of the Life Hack and Zen lists.

Psychology Today gets into the 'why'. As in, why are people so negative? In those Negative Nancies around me, I definitely see a lot of external blame. People feel they aren't respected enough, aren't valued enough. Everything is someone else's fault.

As for dealing with them, Psychology Today offers a few non-starters - talking it out with the person (which will only lead to more negativity as no one likes critical feedback), providing them the love and respect they need (which may lead to a larger need for love and respect and therefore more negativity and a larger tax on you), or finding a third person to engage in discussion. The latter is not happening. I don't think I can drag a co-worker to couples counseling.

Instead, more realistically, Psychology Today suggests showing compassion but protecting your own happiness and attitude. Minimizing the time with them if possible. Adopingt a mostly positive attitude around these individuals. The final and biggest act - be a mature and well-rounded person. Don't get negativite because of their negativity - isn't that ironic? Instead, take ownership of your emotions and attitude. Be secure and act like someone who is loved and respected. Your productivity shouldn't be impacted by their assholeness. Finally, realize that other's negativity's impact on you suggest you also have negativity and aren't fully secure in your emotions. Thanks Psychology Today for making me feel like shit, too.

Also, handy tip, these people are sometimes called energy vampires. Personally, I prefer Negative Nancy - I like alliteration and do not like Twilight.

For me, I feel that I have tried to minimize contact and change the subject. I even set one guy up with his current girlfriend! However, I will continue to try these things but add a few new ones based on today's research - groups (aka, pull in a nearby colleague) and occasional praise. The biggest one is going to be self evaluation. Is there personal negativity I need to deal with? How can I take ownership of my response to negativity? I would like to really focus on this for about a month and then report back. If it doesn't work, I'll be moving to Germany and can re-evaluate with those colleagues! 

An interesting take on this research though - don't be negative. Because all of these articles said the same thing in the end - avoid this person, this 'energy vampire'. Is this person really important in your life? Can you afford ditching them? So don't be a Negative Nancy or everyone will avoid you!

So that's the people. The Cat is just an asshole, no suggestions there, but look how cute!

Definitely cuter while asleep.

Definitely cuter while asleep.