Positively Handling Negative People

Knowing how to handle negative people in your life is mastering the art of communication

How do you currently deal with negative or stressful people in your life?

Negative, aggressive, intimidating, or controlling people are difficult to handle; no doubt about it. Such individuals often leave a negative energy or influence wherever they go. Beyond the initial anger we may experience when encountering such people, we can also feel a sense of unfairness – ‘Why do I need to be stuck dealing with this kind of person?’ Whilst these feelings are normal, it is important to not allow someone to negatively influence us longer than necessary. 

Most people would agree that it’s counterproductive to react harshly to negative people; we will simply get caught up in a cycle of negativity and end up contributing to it. So then how can we positively deal with negative people?

Responding to someone negative doesn’t always mean that we have to engage with them – in fact, it is sometimes better to disengage without creating any unnecessary conflict. However, in the case of unavoidable engagement, using a sensible approach and intelligent communication, we may be able to turn aggression into cooperation, and condescension into respect.

5 Effective Strategies for Engaging With Negative or Stressful People

Keep Calm and Maintain Composure

One of the most common characteristics about negative, aggressive, intimidating, and controlling individuals is that they like to deliberately push someone’s buttons.

The less reactive we are, the more we can use our better judgement to handle the challenge. When we feel upset with or challenged by someone, before we say or do something we might later regret, its a good idea to take a deep breath and count slowly to ten. In many instances, by the time we reach ten, we would have regained composure, and figured out a better response to the issue.

If a person is still upset after counting to ten, they should take a time out, if possible, and revisit the issue after they calm down. If necessary, use phrases such as “I’ll get back to you…” or “Let me think about it…” to buy time.

Keep Our Distance

Not all negative people are worth dealing with directly. Our time is valuable, and our happiness and wellbeing are important. Unless there’s something important at stake, no one should expend themselves trying to battle with a person who’s negatively entrenched. Whether dealing with an angry driver or a pushy relative, its important to keep a healthy distance, and avoid engagement unless absolutely needed.

Consult with trusted friends and family about different courses of action, with personal wellbeing as the number one priority.

Also read our article on non-confrontational approaches to escaping parental judgement.


One effective way to depersonalise is to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, even for just a moment. It is important, no matter how difficult, to have a sense of compassion for negative people. After all, we often don’t know what that person has been, or is going, through. Some people who’ve experienced difficult circumstances have turned them into positives – but not all have. 

Key tip: Regular mindfulness practice can make the depersonalisation approach much easier.

For example, we could consider the person we’re dealing with, and complete one of the following sentences:

  • – “It must not be easy…”
  • – “It must not be easy to come from an environment where everyone was forced to compete…”
  • – “It must not be easy to have such high expectations placed on her/him…”
  • – “It must not be easy to have grown up in a family where s/he was told how to think and act in every way…” 

Empathetic statements certainly do not excuse unacceptable behaviour. The point is to remind ourselves that people do what they do because of their own issues. As long as we’re being reasonable and considerate, difficult behaviours from others say a lot more about them than they do about us. By reducing personalisation, we can be less reactive and concentrate our energy on problem-solving.

Put the Spotlight on Them

A common pattern with negative people is that they like to place attention on others to make them feel uncomfortable or inadequate. Typically, they’re quick to point out there’s something not right with someone or the way they do things. The focus is consistently on ‘what’s wrong’, instead of ‘how to solve the problem.’

This type of communication is often intended to dominate and/or manipulate, rather than to sincerely take care of an issue. A simple and powerful way to change this dynamic is to put the spotlight back on the difficult person, and the easiest way to do so is to use positive statements with genuine interest or concern. For example:

  • – “I hope you feel better soon” catches negative people off-guard by showing true, empathetic concern. They may walk away, silently (or verbally!) thanking you for showing that you care
  • – “Is there something the matter?” – it’s possible that the negative person is carrying around a burden and needs an attentive ear
  • – “If you could, would you spread your feelings around?” – use this one with your best judgement, but it can put someone off-guard and make them think, which is sometimes necessary
  • – “Think of something that makes you happy” – this could possibly come across as corny in the wrong context, but it could also work
  • – “Smiling has a way of changing our mood!” – this will almost assuredly crack a smile. Again, this may sound corny, but if it’s said under the right conditions this may just help; smiling is an aphrodisiac, even if it’s somewhat forced

Putting the difficult person in the spotlight can help neutralise their undue influence over us.    

Use Appropriate Humour

Humour is a powerful communication tool. Consider this common, real-life situation:

  • Positive co-worker: “Hello, how are you?”
  • Negative co-worker: ignores greeting completely
  • Positive co-worker: “That good, huh?”

This ice is broken between the co-workers through the slightest of humour and the two co-workers start a friendly conversation.

When appropriately used, humour can shine light on the truth, disarm difficult behaviour, and show that you have composure.

Knowing how to handle negative, aggressive, intimidating, or controlling people is to truly master the art of communication. As we use these strategies we may experience less grief, greater confidence, and better communication skills. We are then on our way to more successful relationships.

Remember: Negative people need drama like oxygen. Stay positive. It will take their breath away.

If you need any help with upskilling your workforce to more effectively handle negative, stressful or challenging people, or would like to know more about our parent support programs, then please give us a call today on 0402 294 953.  We’d love the opportunity to help!