How to Deal with Negative People and Their Tentacles

We have all worked with negative people

Hell, you may have even been that person once upon a time.

Leading a person with a negative attitude is frustrating and challenging.

You want the best for the team.

This negative person though, sheesh, what’s the point?

It saps your energy and morale and you can guarantee it will do exactly the same to the team around them.

It is best to just ignore them and hope they sort themselves out, right?

Do Nothing

Doing nothing is an option. It is also the worst decision you could make.

If you are leading the team think about the perception created.

The team will be feeling the impact of this person and they are looking to you for support.

Think about it from your own position and your peer group.

If you had a a member of your team moaning. Someone who is always focused on the problems, you would want you Manager to address it – right?

Doing nothing also plays into the hands of the Negative. It allows them time and space to grow their long tentacles of whining and moaning. In time, if not addressed, these tentacles smother and suffocate the team.

The team dies.

Why The Long Face?

We all have the capacity to be negative and I believe, like any mindset, negativity is a choice.

There are people out there who have been making this choice for month/years.

For those embedded in negativity it has spiraled out of control and they don’t know how to stop it.

Yes, they have a choice to undo their thinking.  Yet their brains are hardwired – they don’t know how to re-arrange the circuitry.

Get Curious

I’m always interested in people’s behaviour.

Why does one person see the opportunity and grasp it? Why do others will see a whole number of problems and give up before they have started?

I’ve had so many people, over the years, come and complain to me about the attitude of someone in their team. I often ask the same question, ‘Why do you think they behave like this?’ Their silence suggests it is an angle they have not considered.

The reality is the answer to the question is unimportant.

There could be many reasons why someone is showing a negative attitude.

The importance in attempting to answer the question is to see the problem in a different light.

They are no longer reacting to their own emotions but thinking about the root cause of the negativity.

If you can look on a person’s behaviour as a third party, it gives you the ability to see things fresh for the first time.

It is looking past the fuss and bluster of the emotion and getting curious. Why they are demonstrating the behaviour on show?

If understanding the behaviour you are part of the way there to dealing with it.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true” remove_url=”true”]“Waves of positivity and possibilities send tiny ripples of hope to wash away the walls of negativity.” ― Debasish Mridha[/tweetthis]


Every habbit will follow the same three steps.


  1. Trigger (a reminder that starts the behaviour)
  2. Behaviour (the action taken)
  3. Reward (the benefit of the action)

But how could negative people view their action and behaviour as beneficial or see it as a reward?

Almost all negativity is about fear

  1. Fear of being disrespected by others
  2. The fear of not being loved by others
  3. The fear that bad things will happen

For the negative person the reward is about self preservation and protection.

Here is a real life example from a team meeting.

Me: Rachel, I would like you to take the lead on setting up future meetings. This includes the room booking and setting up the agenda. Is this OK?

Rachel: Why me, I’ve got enough on my plate and I don’t see why you don’t ask one of the others?

Me: I’m asking you because I think you would be great and I’ve already asked some of the others to pick up other tasks.

Rachel: I’m not comfortable doing it and I’m too busy. You can’t make me do it, right?

Me: I can’t force anyone to do anything against their will. I will show you what you need to do, who you need to speak to and you will get specific time to get the job done. It will take 10 mins tops, each month. How does that sound?

Rachel: If it only takes 10 mins then why can’t you do it or someone else do it.

Me: Ugh.

I did not end the conversation with an ‘Ugh’ but this is what was in my mind. Rachel worked in a Call Centre and her primary role was to speak to customers. There was nothing else she needed to do so the ‘busy’ objection was a weak one.

I’m sure you have dealt with much bigger issues involving negative people. In this instance I believe Rachel was fearful of getting something wrong. Something that would embarrass her in front of the other team mates. Much easier to reject a request then think about the opportunity it provides, right?

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true” remove_url=”true”]“Negativity is cannibalistic. The more you feed it, the bigger and stronger it grows.” ― Bobby Darnell[/tweetthis]


What can you do to deal with the negative people you work with?

  • Walk Away/Do Nothing

You could ignore them and cut the cord. How long are you going to be able to do this for? If you are dealing with someone in a restaurant or a shop then fine. Treat them like thin air if you believe their negativity warrants it. If you work with them or they line into you then forget about it. Ignoring the negative attitude and behaviour is not an option.

  • Hold up a Mirror

Asking them how their negative attitude is productive could be one way of going about it. Remember that all negativity is from a basis of fear. If you are holding up a mirror they are unlikely to appreciate you calling it out. They  won’t want to hear anything that comes close to critical feedback.

  • Arbitration

Someone independent, or a friend, could intervene and act as a 3rd party. In some cases I have seen this work. A fresh pair of eyes and ears can be useful. Often this technique falls down as the negative person has someone new they can tell their woes to. It becomes a vicious circle, with little ground made.

  • Understand the Root

I believe this is key in addressing negative behaviour/attitude. If you can get to the bottom of the issue you may not agree with it. You may not even empathise with it, or want to indulge it. What is important is you understand  what the root is and what the likely trigger is going to be. From here you can start to move on to the next points.

  • Be a Role Model

Negative people love to be around other negative people. They feed from the energy and their negative tentacles grow ever longer. Acting as a role model is vital in showing them how. They may have never had a positive role model before. It may be the turning point for them. Remember, their negativity is all about fear.

  1. Define Acceptable Behaviour

You are not even asking for positive behaviour here, just what is acceptable. It may seem odd that we are having to define the basics to a grown adult, but think about the change they have to make. They are not going to come into work the next day and be a shining light of positivity. Defining what is acceptable and making your expectations is key. They may not like what you have to say, but they know what the expectation is.

  • Deal with Conflict Immediately

I talk from experience on this one. I led a team of around twelve people. Around half the team had no issues at all and got on fine. The other half were at war both in work and outside of work.

I tried different tactics, including some of the above, but I should have been more firm from the start.

I hoped they were able to resolve the issues between them. The sniping and snarky comments continued. If I can offer any advice, it is to deal with it immediately. You are not expecting everyone to be friends or even to get along. There still needs to be a basic level of civility and professionalism.

  • How can I Help?

It is rare for someone to ask a negative ‘How can I help?’

You are not offering to hold their hand and to listen to their moaning.

This is linked to understanding the issue. It could be something simple and they have never had help before. It might be an easy fix.

  • How can you Help?

The question that most negatives will hate. Many negatives like to moan and complain but asking then ‘How can you help?’ is like Kryptonite to them.

Every now and again a negative person is crying out for some responsibility.

You have to be careful about how this looks to the team, if you choose to go down this route.

Often they will shrink away from anything that looks close to responsibility.

The Formula

There is no magic formula I’m afraid. The biggest variance in dealing with a negative is the person themselves.

The above hints and tips are a great starting point. They will help in addressing negative behaviour and attitude.

Don’t allow your emotions to take over, get curious and set the standard. In doing so you may just help someone change their outlook and attitude on life.

Believe and take action.

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Ian Ruane

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