We’ve all been there at some point in time. You’re having a nice conversation with a friend. You talk about the weather or grilling in the backyard to break the ice. You might get asked about your family, your health, or if you like the new break room at work. Then, as if it were scripted, the conversation turns negative.
Now I know we all need to vent sometimes because frustration levels have built up to the point where it feels like an internal explosion is about to occur. I’m not talking about venting here, the use of coping skills, or dealing with difficult emotions. That’s a healthy process. Focusing on the negative components of what happens in the world around you is an unhealthy process.
Here’s the good news. You can recognize this negativity before it gets out of hand and then stop it from having a death grip on your conversation. This is how you do it.
#1. Change the perspective. There is a positive way to look at virtually every difficult circumstance that happens throughout the day. It’s not always to see that positivity on your own, but you can certainly look for it when someone is trying to make the conversation become negative. Reframe the issue being discussed so that the negative energy doesn’t receive the outlet it wants.
#2. Change the words. Words are powerful. They have a dramatic impact on each of us every day. Certain words are designed to be negative. Words like “stubborn” or “hate” or even offensive words you wouldn’t want someone to say in front of children. It’s easy to let words like these slide, but they contribute to the negative energy a conversation may have. Choose positive alternatives which still get the point across, but won’t let negativity fester.
#3. Change the memories. We often associate failure with negative emotions. Failure, however, can also be one of the most powerful motivators to strive toward real success. If you know this person has achieve something great, especially in the recent past, then revisit that event. Remind them of the positive emotions. It can help to diffuse the negativity rather quickly.
#4. Change the tone. It’s easy to inadvertently cause negativity to grow because of our own words. Offense can happen even thought it is unintended. Instead of becoming defensive, try being quick to apologize instead. When it happens to you, give the other person the opportunity to do the right thing as well. Sometimes we just have to give each other the benefit of the doubt.
#5. Change the dynamic. Ask for clarity. Maybe you heard something negative that wasn’t actually negative at all. Asking a question about what you’ve heard will help to make sure you’re on the same page.
#6. Change the balance. When you allow negative energy to corrupt a conversation, you’re also allowing the other person or people involved in that conversation to have power over you. This leaves you feeling miserable and for me, it can even cause me to lose my focus for the rest of the day. Our feelings are caused by our choices. We can choose to be positive, even when everyone else is being negative. Go into every conversation refusing to get upset.
#7. Change the priority. The project is due in 3 weeks. Your co-worker is being extremely negative because they feel pressured to get the job done right now. By shifting the priority of issues, you can stop a negative roadblock from appearing.
Negative conversations are always going to happen. When you’re prepared for them, you can turn that negative energy into something a little more positive. This helps to reduce the stress levels we often feel at work, especially when certain co-workers want to come talk with us about something.
How do you handle negative conversations? I’d love to hear some of your strategies that you’ve found help to diffuse the negative energies that others may try to bring your way.