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7 Ways to Have a Pleasant Conversation With a Negative Person People with valid complaints deserve to be heard but chronic complainers need to either lighten up or shut up

By Jacqueline Whitmore Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


You know them. Maybe you work with them, live with them, or hang out with them. They complain, they vent, they criticize, they blame. These people always seem to look at the world cynically. Are you're tired of dealing with them

Unfortunately, dealing with negative people is part of our daily lives we must learn to cope with. It behooves you to be polite, yet firm, when dealing with negativity to keep the conversation and the relationship alive. Here are seven ways to deal with a negative thinker and get the topic back on track.

1. Empathize.

When someone starts off negatively, recognize their pain and then move them toward another topic. You can respond with a heartfelt, "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that," followed by a more positive suggestion, like, "Let's go get a cup of coffee and talk about the Wick project. I'd love to get your ideas."

Related: 7 Strategies for Dealing With Negative People

2. Compliment.

Without reinforcing the negative behavior, compliment the person on how well they handled the situation. Say something like, "Wow, I'm impressed that you were able to solve the situation before it got out of hand." That can turn the conversation to a more positive one.

3. Commiserate.

Perhaps you, too, have experienced what the negative person is upset about. Offer your version of the story, emphasizing a positive outcome. "I can see how upset you are that your car broke down this morning. The same thing happened to me last month, but I found this wonderful mechanic. Would you like his name?"

4. Repeat back.

This is a tried-and-true method for reflecting back what you are hearing. The person may have no idea that they are coming across in a negative way. You can say something like, "It sounds to me like you're sick and tired of being asked to serve on multiple committees. Is that correct?" And with that they might respond, "Oh, that's not what I meant," and then go on to provide a clearer explanation.

Related: 12 Ways Successful People Handle Toxic People

5. Offer to help.

Perhaps the complaints are really a cry for help. Many people have a difficult time asking for help, believing that they will come off as weak or ineffective. They may couch their need in negativity. If you're willing and available, make the offer. It might be just what they are seeking.

6. Change the subject.

Validate what you've just heard and move on to a more positive topic. Say something like, "I'm so sorry to hear about your disagreement with Tom. I hope you can resolve your differences. What are you and you family going to do this weekend?" Then immediately begin on the next topic.

7. Refuse to engage.

If you're tired of being someone's sounding board, set some boundaries and don't get caught up in the drama. Be diplomatic and maintain a neutral tone (without anger, frustration, or reaction). Say something like "Isn't that interesting" or "Is that so?" Don't spend a great deal of time listening to someone rattle on about everything that's wrong in his or her life. It's far too costly to your peace of mind and productivity. Set a time limit, and stick to it. If you're at work, say something like "I'm sorry to hear that. I really have to get back to my project now."

If the person continues, be ready to get stronger. Stand up, create more space between you, and begin to move away. Say "I'd love to keep chatting, but I've got to get back to work now."

Keeping a rosy attitude will help keep you from joining the other person in their despair. Don't encourage negative behavior, rather, look for ways to circumvent a less-than-positive outlook, and you'll leave the conversation feeling better.

Related: 13 Habits of Exceptionally Likable People

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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