Relationships with negative people are like tedious encounters with porcupines. It’s virtually impossible to interact with them without getting stuck with their quills.
Anthony Iannarino certainly understands this. He’s author of The Negativity Fast: Proven Techniques to Increase Positivity, Reduce Fear, and Boost Success.
With two decades of experience in the sales and staffing industries, Iannarino understands the role of mindset in people’s professional trajectories. He also knows how mindsets and behaviors play critical roles in the culture of a team or of an entire organization.
“There are several tell-tale signs that a workplace is in a negativity trap,” he says. “starting with unaddressed problems that cause employees to struggle to do their jobs and causing negativity. When one person is toxic and leaders allow the person to infect others, it can tip a positive culture to one that’s toxic.
Iannarino says uncertainty and ambiguity also push a culture in the wrong direction. “To succeed, people must know what they need to do and how to do it” he says.
Is negativity contagious? And if so, how can people immunize themselves from it?
“It seems that negativity is the only cancer that’s transmitted between humans,” Iannarino says. “It metastasizes when one negative person starts complaining about the workplace. When others suggest that something is a problem, it’s easy to join the person who’s suggesting things need to change. Negativity begins to spread.”
Iannarino says it’s important to remember that complaining isn’t always a bad thing. “Sometimes complaining is necessary to complain,” he says. “It isn’t negative if the person is trying to improve their results by identifying the source of a problem.”
So, what’s the connection between negativity and mental health?
“The science here is well documented,” Iannarino says. “Over time, negativity can cause a person to feel more stress, anxiety, and—in some cases—depression. Having read the literature, it seems gratitude is the remedy to negativity. If you want to feel less negativity, use the Three Blessings exercise popularized by psychologist Martin Seligman. Before you go to bed each night, write down three things that went well for you that day. Seligman suggests two weeks of this will prevent depression for as long as six months.”
Iannarino writes about what he calls a “negativity audit,” a way to identify the sources negativity in your life.
“Negativity can come from media, the people who surround you and, because we spend so much time in the workplace, we need to audit the sources of negativity here. Once you identify the sources of negativity in the workplace, you can build a plan to remove or reduce the negativity.”
Iannarino quotes Friedrich Nietzsche as saying, “That which does not kill you make you stronger.” So how does that perspective apply to dealing with negativity?
“I have several friends who have told me that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them,” he says. “Because of the trajectory of their lives, they are less negative. They are also grateful for the time they have.”
Iannarino isn’t suggesting that people should always be positive. The Negativity Fast, he says, is designed to help people be more positive more of the time.
“When you have a negative experience, you are always allowed to experience the negative that’s appropriate,” he says. “You are always allowed to feel all the emotions that come with being a human.”
A key, he suggests, is to do your best to surround yourself with positive people.
As a smart guy once said: Negative people need drama like oxygen. Stay positive. It will take their breath away.