Negativity or The No Person is one of the ten behavioral types we described in our book, Dealing With People You Can't Stand, How To Bring Out The Best In People At Their Worst (Brinkman & Kirshner, McGraw-Hill, 1994, 2003, 2011). Negativity and its first cousin Whining are particularly insidious in an organization. That's because those behaviors tend to spread like the flu through a team and before you know it, everyone is doing it. Even worse, it can become a team habit.
The difference between whining and negativity is whining is a feeling of being helpless, the victim of people, circumstances, or ironically the present circumstances not measuring up to their own high standard of perfection.
Whereas negativity is hopeless. They have given up in the face of the same thing. In fact negativity is really fossilized whining, it goes on and on and on and finally they say, “what’s the use why bother.”
When people get negative they have all the sureness and arrogance of a Know-it-all seduced by the dark side of the force. ;-)
The first thing to do is knowing what not to do. Do not bother trying to tell them it’s not so bad or offer a solution. That causes them to go deeper into their quicksand of how bad it is. This is called a polarity response. Two-year-olds and teenagers can have a polarity response as a developmental phase. And when people are negative they have polarity. (Interestingly enough when people are whiny they do not have polarity.)
So if you want to have a little fun and mess with their head then jump into their quicksand with them and playfully start splashing around saying, “You’re right, it’s hopeless, why bother, nothing will work, we might as well just end it all right now.” And they’ll respond with, “Well you’re right but all we have to do is this…” Like magic they will talk solutions to you.
Another thing you can do with negativity is harness it for the greater good. I remember a woman telling me about her husband Bob who was terribly negative, always what’s wrong, nothing ever right. She said the Cub Scouts are planning a trip to Washington DC and the organizers wondered if anything go wrong so they decided to invite her husband Bob to a planning meeting.
Sure enough Bob ripped the trip apart in generalizations but as they kept asking questions they got him to be more and more specific. Then they said, “Thanks a lot Bob, see later,” and sorted for themselves what was an exaggeration and what should be attended to. This is called giving yourself an attitude adjustment by not letting the negative person be a wet blanket as well as using them as a resource.
For more click on the "Whining/Negativity" category on the left.
And certainly the book “People You Can’t Stand…” will also be a useful resource: http://www.rickbrinkman.com/store/books/dpcs.shtml
It is also available in audio book: http://rickbrinkman.com/store/audio/dpcsAUDIO.shtml or as a download at the iTunes store or at Audible.com.