We all have people in our lives who we consider challenging, difficult, or draining. And even though we’d like to distance ourselves from them, there is almost always some level of guilt or sense of responsibility involved.
We want to be respectful.
We want to honor the relationship we have with them, whether they’re a colleague, neighbor, or even more difficult to navigate, a friend or family member.
The challenge, of course, is that distancing yourself from someone while remaining respectful and honoring the relationship can seem impossible.
Let’s take a look at the typical options most people consider when attempting to prune negative people from their lives:
Option #1: Cutting them off completely. This is almost never practical, and it violates the whole “respectful” thing.
Option #2: Avoid the person, or deflect their demands. This is what we usually end up doing. It often leads to embarrassing situations where you’re caught clearly trying to avoid the person, or repeatedly giving them the run-around week after week until they’re too frustrated to deal with you anymore. Neither of those outcomes are what we are seeking.
Option #3: Simply tell them they’re a negative person and you don’t want to be around them. If you were open to this option, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article. Obviously, going this route almost never ends well.
The Alternative: How to Distance Yourself from Negative People with Grace and Compassion
I really believe we can effectively distance ourselves from negative people and simultaneously practice compassion. The two are not mutually exclusive.
We are in charge of our emotions.
We can choose our feelings.
We can change our point of view.
We can change our perceptions.
We can change how we emote, operate, and work with other people utilizing that one simple thing that we are also free to choose—the truth.
You can remain respectful and honor people by telling them the truth. When you try options 1 or 2 listed above, people know something isn’t right. They can sense our discomfort. When we bend the truth, they can tell.
Instead, it’s much more respectful to simply tell them what you are choosing to do with your time and why.
I’ve learned to say, “I really appreciate you asking me and I hope you understand, I’m not going to be able to do it. I have decided that when I’m home, I’m going to be with my family.”
If somebody pushes back or doesn’t understand—and I’ve had that happen a couple of times—I just smile and I say, “I’m so sorry you don’t understand, but again, thank you for asking.”
What are your priorities? What comes first for you?
My very first responsibility is to God. My second responsibility is to my family. After those, I am responsible to my work and friendships.
When you speak the truth about what is most important—your life’s priorities—you are congruent in mind and deed. You don’t need excuses. You don’t need justification. There’s no room or reason for guilt. The items that are highest on your priority list are the very things making you who you are.
So, speak the truth. Speak your truth. Every time you do, you will feel stronger in your conviction about what is right for you.
Determine never to let someone else’s behavior dictate your life. We’ve all been conflicted about who or where to give our attention. But if you can’t say no, you’ll eventually spend most of your time doing things you don’t want to do.
One side note: If you’re having a challenge with someone, personally or professionally, that has escalated to a point where speaking your truth and setting boundaries has not been effective, it may be time to elicit outside help. At the office, you find a mediator. At home, you seek a counselor. Hopefully, your situation will not require such measures, but don’t rule them out.
Should Negative People ALWAYS Be Avoided?
Part of the pain that comes with removing a negative person from your life stems from the fact that we almost always want to help that person! Often, it’s a friend or family member we know is capable of so much more.
After all, I should know. Many years ago, I was that negative person.
If Jones, my mentor during that time, had eliminated negative people from his life, he would have certainly eliminated me.
But Jones didn’t have to consider dropping me from his life. He had reached such a level of awareness and strength of character within himself that I had no influence on him at all. His challenge wasn’t figuring out how to keep me from dragging him down—it was figuring out how to say things that would resonate with me in a way I could understand.
Negative people have often become negative because they’ve hit a low point and are frustrated with life. When Jones found me living under the pier, that was exactly what I was going through.
I was at a place where I desperately needed to eliminate the negative influences in my life, whether they were people, ideas, or perspectives. Jones taught me to look for three qualities in every person, thought, or action:
If a person didn’t exhibit these three qualities, I didn’t need to spend time around them. If an idea or activity did not lead to these three things, I did not need to spend time on it.
Fast-forward to this point in my life. There are people who are just beginning that same journey as I did years ago. After years of working to achieve the proper perspective, those people will not affect me in a negative way, so I strive to be a Jones to them.
If you think you have the opportunity to help a negative person, and you don’t believe their negativity will drag you down, by all means take it.
You Control How You Relate to the Truth
Remember: you are in control of how you act. That includes what you say, how you say it, and to whom. You make your own decisions. It may take some practice saying no, especially to people you’ve frequently appeased in the past, but you can do it.
Start slowly if you must, but do start. Every time you say no to someone or something that doesn’t feel right, you are saying yes to something else that does.
Question: What have you learned from dealing with negative people? Share your experience, good or bad, in the comments section below.