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 you may experience when encountering such people, you 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 you longer than necessary. 

Most of you would agree that it’s counterproductive to react harshly to negative people; you 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 you 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, you 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 your buttons.

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

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

Keep Your Distance

Not all negative people are worth dealing with directly. Your time is valuable, and your happiness and wellbeing are important. Unless there’s something important at stake, don’t expend yourself by trying to battle with a person who’s negatively entrenched. Whether you’re dealing with an angry driver, a pushy relative, or a domineering supervisor, keep a healthy distance, and avoid engagement unless you absolutely have to.

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

Also read our article on non-confrontational approaches to bullying and judgement in motherhood.


One effective way to depersonalise is to put yourself 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, consider the person you’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 yourself that people do what they do because of their own issues. As long as you’re being reasonable and considerate, difficult behaviours from others say a lot more about them than they do about you. By reducing personalisation, you can be less reactive and concentrate your energy on problem-solving.

Put the Spotlight on Them

A common pattern with negative people is that they like to place attention on you to make you feel uncomfortable or inadequate. Typically, they’re quick to point out there’s something not right with you or the way you 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

By putting the difficult person in the spotlight, you can help neutralise their undue influence over you.    

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 you use these strategies you may experience less grief, greater confidence, and better communication skills. You are on your way to more successful relationships!

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