Four Ways to Get Unwanted Emotions Under Control

Blog by Tracy Stock, CSP

Have you ever said something out of anger that you later regretted? Of course! We all have. Emotions are powerful. They determine how we interact with others and ultimately the relationships we hold. Unfortunately, as human beings, we are reaction machines. And as the saying goes, “When angry, you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” Here’s how to avoid reacting poorly and better control your emotions when it matters most:

1. Alter your story. How you interpret a situation—meaning the story you tell yourself about a certain set of facts—is what creates your emotions. No one can cause you to feel a certain way. Everyone totally owns their individual emotions. If you want to change your outcomes or results, you must change the stories you tell yourself (the interpretations you make). And just last week I spoke to a SHRM group in Texas about how to better control emotions when it matters most. Here is a snippet of that live + virtual program, focusing on the concept of how to alter your story.

Clearly the stories we tell ourselves impact our emotions, and ultimately our outcomes. Additional strategies to better control unwanted emotions include:

2. Prepare. Think through how the conversation may go. How have you reacted in the past? Have you had a difficult conversation with this person before, and if so, how did s/he respond? Consider and write down what you think the person might say that could potentially send you over the edge. Go through each point and proactively assess why, from their vantage point, s/he would say such a thing. Go into the conversation prepared and you will maintain greater composure and likely handle the situation far better.

3. Listen more than you talk. It feels great to be heard, but if you are not listening to the other’s response, the discussion is pointless. Many people—as unintentional as it may be—focus on what they are going to say next; how they will respond. Instead, try very hard to remain focused on what the other person is trying to communicate. They may not say it as eloquently as some can, but empathizing with them in that moment and acknowledging their feelings along the way is a much better decision than not letting them get a word in edgewise.

4. Label your emotions. Do your best to acknowledge what emotion you are experiencing. Are you frustrated? Do you feel disappointed? Are you nervous? Sometimes the feeling of anger masks emotions that feel vulnerable—like shame or embarrassment. By paying attention to what you are feeling and then labeling it/them, you are consciously identifying at least one emotion that has ahold of you in that moment, which may help you realize how emotions affect your decisions.

Gain control over your emotions and watch your relationships soar! To learn more strategies on how to more effectively do this within your team, across your organization or just personally, reach out to me at tracy@achievepositiveoutcomes.com.

Simply G.R.O.W. for a More Balanced, Meaningful and Fulfilling Life

Blog by Tracy Stock, CSP

We are constantly bombarded with messages to “buy more, do more, and be more.” Life has become overwhelming for many. We feel we need to look younger, become richer, feel happier, work quicker, be thinner, drive harder, run farther, think bigger, dress trendier, eat healthier, walk taller, drive safer, go faster, live bigger…and the list goes on. It’s exhausting to think about and even more wearying to act out. My cure for craziness—while also focusing on continuing to learn and grow in life—is choosing to live more simply. Now, this concept is simple, no doubt; but certainly not easy—which is why I chose to focus on it this month.

Living simply means cutting out the many trivial and unimportant things you do, so you have more quality time for passions, family, friends, and yourself. It means slowing down and getting rid of the clutter, so you can choose to live a more balanced, healthier, and fulfilling life. It is about being present and living in the moment in a meaningful way.

To live a simpler life—while I continue to target ways in which I can enrich my career and personal aspirations—I choose to apply four key strategies using the acronym, “G.R.O.W.” which includes:

G – Goal-setting

R – Reduce

O – Organize

W – Work

The first component of “G.R.O.W.” includes “goal-setting.” When speaking to groups, I often ask those in the audience to raise their hands if they have a list of goals for the year. Next, I ask them to keep their hands in the air if they wrote those annual goals down and refer to them at least on a monthly basis. It is amazing how many hands go down. Developing a plan and setting goals is a powerful process. It helps you choose where you want to go in life. By knowing precisely what you want to achieve, you know where you need to concentrate your efforts. You’ll also quickly spot the distractions that would otherwise lure you off course. By setting clearly defined goals, you can take pride in seeing forward progress and achieving them.

To live a more simple, present and meaningful life, the second component of “G.R.O.W.” is to “reduce” the volume of activities I am involved in. This could mean the number of groups, projects, commitments, or things I am expected to participate in—whether I volunteer for them or graciously have them appointed. Additionally, living simply also means cutting back on the number of tasks I am juggling at any given time.

I am amazed when I hear people proudly verbalize how they can multitask so well. Is this even possible? Can we communicate on the telephone and write an email at the same time? We physically can, but are we doing justice to either activity? Instead of calling this multitasking, I like to refer to it as shift-tasking. We rapidly shift from one thing to another, interrupting ourselves unproductively. I’ve seen numerous research studies on the negative effects of multitasking, and some show that productivity drops as much as 40 percent. When I think I’m doing myself a favor by multitasking, I remind myself to think again. Instead of doing two or three things mediocre, I’d rather be focused and excel at one.

“Organize” is the third component of “G.R.O.W.” which illustrates that the more organized our stuff is, the more productive we will be. If I have a messy desk, I can’t seem to concentrate. When I need to regain organizational control, I block off a chunk of time and that is the task I focus on, whether it is for thirty minutes or two hours. A friend told me she read an article, which stated that people generally spend about one year of their life looking for lost things. Imagine if that statistic is true. Purposefully enhance your organizational skills in as many aspects of your life as possible. Whether it is organizing email folders, your wallet, a pantry, a large closet, or an entire basement; the more organized you keep yourself and your belongings, the less you will have to re-organize and the more productive you will be.

The final component of the “G.R.O.W.” acronym for living a simpler, more balanced and fulfilling life is to “work.” Anything worth doing takes strong discipline, dedication and sweat equity—also known as work. Hard work requires us to be present in the here and now, and to focus our efforts on what we are currently doing. And when you look at high achievers, for example, working hard is not an option…it’s their default. And if you happen to be one of the best at what do you, your work probably feels like play. That’s one of the keys to being successful. Find something you love to do, that you’re good at, and that you can get paid for. That’s true success in my eyes.

Living a happy, successful and meaningful life is a conscious choice. Choose to let go of the craziness and instead focus on continuing to G.R.O.W. by living more simply.

Nasty or Nice? You Choose.

“Be nice. Play nice. Talk nice.” We are told these words over and over as kids, and reminded of them as adults. “Nice guys finish last,” “nice guy syndrome,” and “no more Mr. Nice Guy” (or girl, of course)—all arguments against being nice. So can being too nice actually hurt you? Yes, sometimes it can.

I recently had a new stamped concrete patio poured and the contractor unfortunately didn’t do a quality construction job. Within three months of installation, 20+ cracks had formed. I reached out to him, asked for it to be replaced and was abruptly told, “No.” I tried to reason with him, to no avail. After a very long, emotionally-draining process, I chose to let it go. I wondered, was I initially too nice? Should I have been more ruthless in my approach? Would yelling and screaming at him have helped me achieve a better outcome?

I generally believe in being reasonable and that I should treat others how I want to be treated. We all know this. Yet, common sense is not always common practice. Because of my recent personal experience, I thought I’d research the concept of “niceness.” I didn’t think my opinion of behaving nice would alter, but I wanted to find out what I didn’t know about the cons of niceness:

  • Some people try to take advantage of nice people. Nice can be misconstrued as soft, but certainly better than being mean or rude. Choose “nice” over “nasty.” It just feels good.
  • Some may not strive to meet your needs. This lack of empathy may be due to being selfish or possibly because they experienced a similar situation. Be sure you communicate your expectations and needs to avoid this issue.
  • You may forget to be good to yourself. Nice people can tend to throw so much of their time and energy into the niceness they are giving to others that they may not address or take care of their own needs. Do your best to not get swept up in the negativity and problems of other people—keeping the pessimistic Paul’s and back-stabbing Betty’s at a safe distance.
  • You may be viewed with skepticism and/or mistrust. Sometimes unwarranted niceness is view as suspicious behavior. Sad…but true. Be clear with your intentions and exercise patience so the other person can sense your degree of genuineness versus danger.
  • Some may become jaded and feel that most people are not good. There are plenty of bad seeds in the world, but I choose to believe that most are kind, understanding and strive to be honorable people. Look at people and things through an optimistic lens versus viewing things as inevitably bad. When you do, you’ll see even more random acts of kindness and niceness, which is very reciprocal.
  • You may begin to resent those who are nice to you. Resentment is a dangerous and poisonous feeling. It significantly erodes trust and deteriorates relationships—often beyond repair. Choose to maintain a healthy and positive mindset—one with less resentment and more admiration.
  • Some may find themselves apologizing for things that aren’t their fault. Nice people don’t typically like to see other people upset. In turn, nice individuals can then start to shoulder problems and emotions that are not theirs to carry. Certainly, you should apologize when warranted; but ensure it’s yours to own.
  • You may find yourself overburdened with additional responsibilities. Being too nice is a quick way to become swamped with an unmanageable amount of responsibilities—such as: being volunteered for activities without anyone consulting you or accepting more than your fair share of work. Instead, just say, “No.” No is a complete sentence that nice people must learn. And don’t feel obligated to always justify your “no.” Justification offers a manipulative person a potential in-road to inject self-doubt and undermine your “no.”
  • Some may become a magnet for narcissists, manipulators and users. Nice people tend to be naïve and attract those predators who find it easy to steamroll and manipulate. Instead, ask questions while looking for motives and inconsistencies. Also, establish and enforce boundaries without letting emotions cloud your judgment.

Niceness is a quality that this world is in dire need of. It’s imperative that we spread this contagious, positive way of being; yet, at times, it can definitely cause unwanted issues, which we need to be cognizant of. When you’re too nice—to suppliers who can’t deliver on time, to colleagues who don’t do their work, or even contractors who don’t provide the quality service you pay them to deliver—you’re actually being taken advantage of.

Stand tall and confident, without waver or waffling, while being pleasant and polite—with a strong degree of nice. No one should be taken advantage of, nor stoop to a feeling of reacting emotionally when vulnerable. Often times the negative reaction from you is what is desired most from the other person. Do your best to keep your cool and choose nice over nasty. Handle the situation the best way you can, seeking external professional resources when necessary, but then…let it go. This action is simple, but definitely not easy; yet, is it worth giving up the sanctity of your personal space, peace of mind, and overall happiness? Likely not. Remember…being nice is not a character flaw. It’s a healthy and honorable choice.

Find Joy in Being Wrong

Blog by Tracy Stock, CSP

What do you think of people who are wrong? Common responses are ignorant, lazy, uneducated. And we are taught at a very young age that the way to succeed in life is to never make mistakes…or at least, make as few of them as possible. After all, getting something wrong means there is something wrong with us. And today, many of us will do anything to avoid being wrong. But what if we’re wrong about all that?

Think about the last time you were wrong. Perhaps it was today, yesterday, last week, or last month. Consider how you felt emotionally to feel wrong. Did it feel embarrassing, dreadful, painful? Most of you will say, “Yes, the feeling was similar.” Yet, if you answered “yes” to that question, you were wrong. Being wrong doesn’t feel like anything because you don’t know it yet; however, when you realize you’re wrong, that’s when it hurts.

Last week, I purchased a new vehicle and agreed to trade in my current one. Because it wasn’t in stock, the salesperson had to drive to another dealership to pick it up, five hours away round trip. After it went through inspection and the keys were exchanged, I knew I had made a mistake immediately when I drove off the lot. Did the car not feel right or was it that I didn’t feel right about the purchase? I told myself that the car didn’t feel right; yet I came to realize later that there was nothing wrong with the car—I had buyer’s remorse. The dealership was amazingly understanding…and after being unsuccessful in trying to place me in a different model, they instead changed plates back and handed me the keys to my original vehicle. I even received a pleasant email from the salesperson the next day commenting that he wished we could have achieved a positive outcome for me. I assured him he most certainly did! And guess who I will ask for if/when I decide to purchase that brand of vehicle again? I can guarantee you it will be him.

In contrast to understanding an error though, knowing you are right often times leads to feeling smart, responsible, safe and even happy. It means that your position, belief, or assumption perfectly fit reality. But to aim to always be right is not rational behavior.

We also like to think that we reach conclusions by reviewing facts, weighing evidence and analyzing arguments. But this is not how human beings usually operate—particularly when decisions are important or need to be made quickly. We usually arrive at a conclusion independent of conscious reasoning that fits are existing worldview and doesn’t require us to change a pleasant or familiar narrative. And only if it’s required, we will search for reasons to defend why we are right—like if a newly purchased car is returnable because it just doesn’t feel right.

Rather than staunchly preserving our stance when it appears that we may be wrong, it’s important to realize that the capacity for us to screw up isn’t an embarrassing defect; it is fundamental to who we are. Rather than driving why your point is right and the other one is wrong, try entertaining that your conclusion may not be potentially accurate—likely keeping emotions from escalating and relationships becoming damaged because of a commitment to rightness. Instead, find joy in realizing you aren’t perfect; you made a mistake; you’re wrong; but fixing or admitting to the wrong makes you less wrong than before.

Striving to be less wrong—rather than more right—could also be a beneficial way to better understand yourself in multiple contexts, whether it’s a marital argument or a business decision. I may be wrong about who vacuumed the house last week, or about which vendor to partner with; yet if I begin from the assumption that I’m fallible and striving to be less wrong, a challenge or potential mistake may not feel so threatening.

I encourage you to transform your thoughts about being wrong. Instead, view mistakes as learning opportunities. After all, when do you learn most…when things go great or things crumble? I can assure you that I truly learn when I’m wrong and standing in the rubble of defeat. The first key point here is to learn from mistakes and work hard to not repeat them. A second, and more important key point though, is before you commit to saying you’re right, question your own positions and judgments; test yourself by examining your beliefs and recognizing rationalization when you engage in it. And the easiest way to accomplish this second point is to break out of your warm, comfortable cocoon of safety and consider saying, “Maybe I’m wrong.”

Resilience: The Courage to Come Back Stronger

The first and arguably the most talented singer ever crowned on American Idol is Kelly Clarkson. One of her many hits entitled, “Stronger,” is clearly applicable today. And even though a vaccine is just about ready for the world, none of us are—nor ever will be—immune from enduring tough situations. After all, it’s not the difficult condition that does you in; it’s how you choose to react to it.

Resilience is defined as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health issues, workplace stressors, financial difficulties, etc. And interestingly, research has shown that resilience is quite ordinary, versus extraordinary. See, people commonly demonstrate resilience—like how they respond to job loss, personal injury, illness, death of a loved one, or even a world-wide pandemic. Resilience is what helps you adapt and recover.

I often hear people say self-disparaging related comments like, “I’m not as tough as he is” or “I just can’t adapt like she can.” Interestingly, resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.

Take a moment and compare highly resilient people with those who struggle with it. What do they do differently? One action that resilient people demonstrate is that they approach and solve problems differently. They take intentional and specific steps to resolve them in these ways:

  • Resilient people are able to spot the solution that will more likely lead to a safe outcome; they rarely have tunnel vision.
  • Calmly and rationally look at a problem and envision a successful solution. Don’t wait for the problem to go away on its own.
  • Focus on the progress you make and plan your next steps, rather than becoming discouraged by the amount of work that still needs to be completed.
  • Whenever you encounter a new challenge, note important details and make a quick list of potential ways you could solve the problem.

For example, let’s say a fellow team-member leaves your organization. More work will likely come your way. How would a resilient person approach this issue? S/he could re-prioritize the work, delegate as many responsibilities as feasible, and practice planned neglect—determine one thing you can plan to NOT do this day, week, or month (or year)—to make time for the new short-term tasks that have been recently assigned.

If you want to “create versus react” as your organization begins the new year, consider partnering with me to help you Achieve Positive Outcomes with one of my most requested training programs entitled, “Resilience: The Courage to Come Back.” After all, resilience is a learned behavior; it is a choice. Choose to not simply react, and instead, help your team put 2020 in the rearview mirror. Arm your employees, colleagues and yourself with results-focused strategies to create greater resilience and success—for your strongest year yet.     

And as I slightly adapt the lyrics of Clarkson’s famous tune…Footsteps even lighter—what doesn’t kill you makes a fighter. Stand a little taller—what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And my hope…Intentionally and courageously move forward—what doesn’t kill you makes you more resilient.

Don’t Ever Choke Again!

Have you ever spoken with someone who rambles through their thoughts or meanders from one subject to another without ever making a point? This may be frustrating in a personal situation but it’s infuriating as the listener in a professional setting. To avoid similar gaffes and instead, communicate with greater clarity, conciseness and confidence—learn and apply The Rule of Threes. Let’s do a quick activity! Watch and listen to this short video.

Why is this rule important? Because you’ll never be caught off guard—or choke—again. The next time your boss, or someone else, asks you how that project is coming that s/he assigned to you, avoid the common and gut-wrenching answer of, “Fine.” So many people respond in a similar manner and it can not only shatter your boss’ perception of your competence, but it can also strip you of endless future opportunities.

Instead, when you are put on the spot and asked to share a summary or provide an update on a project/process/problem, apply The Rule of Threes using a time-related focus. For example, state your response in a way that answers these three questions:

  1. What [tasks] have I recently completed? (past)
  2. What [tasks] am I currently working on? (present)
  3. What [tasks] do I plan to do in the near future? (future)

Your response may sound something like this: “This project has been interesting and very fun for me! Last week I finished [X], which I’m very proud of. This week I am focused on [Y], which will put us in a better position with our competition. And next week, my plan is to [Z].”

This strategy is persuasive, as your listener is more likely to trust your reasoning with a three-part structure. It’s rhythmical—meaning it creates momentum, moving your listener from point A to B to C. Lastly, this strategy is memorable because it is far easier to remember three things over other numbers like four, five or ten. If you’re skeptical, look at these common examples:

And rather than someone asking you for a project update, sometimes we need to sell or position an idea or product in the best way possible. Obviously, you will want to focus on how your listener will benefit. It is also helpful, though, to place your three reasons/benefits in a specific order. The goal is to start strong, but end with your strongest point of all:

Each time we face the fear of speaking, we gain strength, courage and confidence. With repeated practice it can be executed concisely and brilliantly. So take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the (1) style, (2) sharpness and (3) clarity to influence others and achieve positive outcomes. (And be sure to include The Rule of Threes!)

Sheer Craziness!

Today there was some chaos in the community where I live. Water was bellowing up from the ground and flowing as a steady stream down the street. The original thought was that the main water line was damaged, but apparently the saddle valve blew off—which connects the main water line to the service lines. And because the pressure was so intense, it blew a hole in the main water line.

As with most of the hardworking men and women who put forth great energy and effort everyday as the community continues to grow with newly-built homes, today was no different. As soon as the issue was realized, individuals from numerous local agencies were working diligently to resolve the issue. Within five minutes or so of noticing the problem, the water was shut off so the flooding ceased. But over the course of the next five minutes, sheer craziness ensued!


As I looked outside, water was again gushing out of the ground and streaming down the street. But why? Because an inspector had to first see the issue before the water could officially be shut off. A worker was told to physically turn the water back on to watch the surge continue until the inspector arrived. Seriously? Where has common sense gone? This story is not about common sense. It’s about leadership.


So often I hear companies say, “We need to get the right people on the bus and in the right seats.” Yet, all the workers I saw busting their butts to help quickly solve the problem and mitigate more damage, were definitely in roles where they knew what to do in a crisis situation and acted accordingly. But then their autonomy was stripped away until one special person could arrive to say, “Yep! We got a problem! Shut the water off.”

Diligently digging and searching for the leak.


Now, I understand there are rules in place for a reason and employees are asked to follow a chain of command. I get that. Yet, it is a leader’s job to create an environment where employees can do their work—to the best of their abilities—without being judged, scrutinized or told to stand down—especially in a crisis situation. The agile workers who responded swiftly and safely had their autonomy shredded today. What do you think will happen next time there is a similar issue?

Stop asking, “How do I get the right people in the right roles?”

Stop asking, “How do I get the best out of my employees?”

START asking, “How do I get out of the way and provide the tools necessary so my people can be their natural best?” 

Training with Tracy | live + online

Tracy Stock is one of the most in-demand and top-rated female speakers and training professionals today—both LIVE and VIRTUALLY—because of her ability to inspire behavior change and achieve positive outcomes. As a Certified Speaking Professional® (CSP) with 20+ years speaking experience, a former director of learning and development, and a best-selling author with five published titles—she has now added “Expert Virtual Classroom Trainer” to her list of accolades.

Learning and mastering this newer craft from one of the best Virtual Classroom Master Trainers in the world, Tracy is elevating the virtual training bar to incredible new heights. CLICK HERE TO READ HOW! She is known for:

  • Engaging, interactive content and activities. Tracy transformed her highly successful in-person workshops into interactive virtual training programs with robust content and customized activities tailored for the online learning environment—so participants remain engaged and learn key strategies they can immediately apply on-the-job.
  • Unparalleled online presence. Tracy’s energy, enthusiasm and online presence are unparalleled—offering results-focused solutions that are fun, professional and collaborative—ensuring participants remain active every 2-3 minutes for a highly-focused virtual experience. As a seasoned facilitator, Tracy is exceptionally skilled at both demonstrating and communicating what participants should do next, so they are captivated and engaged throughout the learning experience.
  • Expert professional host of a reliable platform. All virtual training platforms are not created equal. Tracy is highly skilled at using the Zoom platform which includes numerous interactive elements such as HD video capabilities, breakout rooms, chat experiences, whiteboards, polling, reactions, and more. She even provides a one-page user-guide to ensure seamless Zoom navigation as well as professionally designed participant guides that are useful, engaging and support the learners’ performance.

WHEN LIFE HANDS YOU LEMONS, MAKE “SOFT” LEMONADE!

As a dear subscriber and follower of my monthly ezines, you clearly are aware that I’ve taken a hiatus from communicating online—which was a conscious choice. After enduring a painful divorce, I chose to leave Colorado and make a fresh start. I looked at a map of the US, and asked myself, “Where do I want to live…now and possibly when I retire some day?” I considered various amazing options and settled on the Charlotte, NC area. With only know one person who lives here—a fellow female speaker and wonderful friend—I couldn’t be happier with my choice! My leap of faith paid off!

I now live in a small town northwest of Charlotte which is far enough away from traffic mayhem but also close enough to everything I want and need…plus a gorgeous lake, beautiful mountains and the breathtaking ocean only a short drive away. As I evaluated my new life, I decided there were other aspects that also needed to be altered. So subsequent changes evolved. In addition to my last name formally changing (Stock), I changed my phone number that I’ve had ever since I can remember (980.280.7005), and I also renamed my business (Achieve Positive Outcomes) to be more in line with my overall offerings—with both keynotes and training now being offered live and virtually. This led to me developing an entire new website AchievePositiveOutcomes.com with a new logo, which then led to needing all of my social media accounts to be revised—leading to a new You Tube channel, a new speaker reel, a creative new blog entitled, Take STOCK of Your Life, all marketing materials being revised, and on and on and on. So I refer to my offline time as a conscious hiatus, but in actuality, it was the busiest I have ever been in my life!


With all of the sleepless nights, waffling thoughts and countless quick decisions I needed to make, I could have chose to wallow in self pity, sit back and watch my business tank during COVID, or do something about it. I chose to look at my HUGE bowl of lemons, add cups of sweet sugar, and considered adding lots of alcohol to make it “hard lemonade”, but instead, added kindness, love and passion to create an even better me. As I frequently say, “We all face tough stuff, but it’s never the tough stuff that does us in; rather, it’s our reaction to the tough stuff.” I chose to not be bitter, but better. I chose to not be hard and jaded, but soft with understanding, compassion, strength and a generous dollop of optimism. Because without those choices, I would not be who I am today.

Remember…true learning happens when we experience things; not when we talk about experiencing them. What have you experienced recently? Connect with me on my new social media (so I can organically grow my SM presence) or via email and share what you’ve learned lately.

Changes:

Last Name: Tracy Butz to Tracy Stock

Business Name and website: Achieve Positive Outcomes, LLC

New email address: Tracy@AchievePositiveOutcomes.com

New phone number: 980.280.7005

New address: 359 Secretariat Dr, Iron Station, NC 28080

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tracystock/

Twitter: @TracyStockAPO  https://twitter.com/TracyStockAPO

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TracyStockAPO/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tracystockapo/

Blog: https://takestockofyourlife.com/

Youtube Channel: https://bit.ly/2DX7lyy

Speaker Video: https://youtu.be/MKh8kx4Eb1o

Ditch the Downers

Many people equate work to feelings of frustration, worry, unhappiness, anger or even fear. Work just doesn’t have to be this way! We can talk about these issues “until the cows come home” or we can do something about them. As a leader or individual contributor, you can make a significant impact in your workplace culture and also key relationships by making one small change after another—positively altering attitudes, behaviors and performance. And because every person influences someone every day—whether that influence is positive or negative—helping your employees to ditch the downers they may encounter at work or at home, will certainly help them navigate tough interactions and also aid them in better controlling their own thoughts and actions. 

Do you know any “Debbie Downers” or “Pessimistic Pauls?”

Everyone knows someone who can literally “suck the life out of a room.” You say it’s a beautiful day, she tells you why it’s not. You tell him about your new idea, he tells you why it won’t work. You proudly share a recent work success, and she replies with, “Yeah, but what about…?” I refer to these toxins as “Debbie Downers,” “Cynical Sams,” “Pessimistic Pauls,” “Negative Nancys,” or “Gloomy Glens.” They see every glass of milk as half empty. They play devil’s advocate to every positive scenario. They spew venom to anyone and everyone who will listen.

I often wonder if poisonous attackers realize they’re being incredibly negative, or if it is so commonplace that it is an unconscious action? Regardless, avoid these snakes before they slither their way deep into your psyche and you start mirroring similar behaviors. She complains, you listen. He seizes his prey with a bite, you exhale. She tightens the coil, and you can no longer inhale. The demise is constricting, swift and lethal.

The truth is, who you hang with, you become. Do you surround yourself with an inspiring support network, who lifts you when you’re down, pushes you to grow, and offers candor when needed? Or are you encased with those who consistently pull you down, vomit can nots, why nots and should nots, and/or ooze denial, criticism and blame? Success breeds success. Whining fosters more whining. The choice is yours.  Cutting ties with “Nathan Naysayer” is much easier said than done. Even when bosses need to sever ties, employees often hope they take the necessary action, so the morale of the team doesn’t take a hit. Yet, according to a recent survey featured on Fortune.com, fewer than half of managers said they would fire someone for damaging team morale. Interestingly, 88 percent of employees would. Team members understand the direct impact of these destructive types. They personally experience their high-performing, fun and collaborative team morph into something unrecognizable—a team they don’t want to be a part of any longer. Sadly, it’s often too late when management finally realizes the extent of the damage.

Because employees often struggle with how to handle “the Nathans”—whether at work or at home, consider recommending or trying several of these ideas:

  • Change your routine. Instead of sitting through lunch with someone who whines and complains about her troubles, critiques mutual friends, and sits and pouts, choose to do something different with that time. Go for a walk, eat with someone else, or spend time reading. The exchange may influence a behavior change from her, too, or at the very least, you will more easily be able to enjoy lunchtime without facing unwanted negativity.
  • Keep interactions short. If you have to engage with a toxic individual, keep the interactions short and focused on the desired outcome. Instead of empathizing as she rambles on about her mountainous number of tasks or frustrating spouse, listen for a few minutes, and then explain that you really need to cut this conversation short due to another commitment—the commitment you made to yourself to limit interactions with this person.
  • Control self-talk. Negative emotions tend to rise when we encounter pessimistic influences. If your emotions begin to elevate after talking with a toxic personality, be conscious of and control the self-talk in your mind. For example, a normally calm, mild-mannered person may resort to yelling outwardly or screaming inwardly because she simply can’t take hearing the negativity anymore. It may be tempting to say to yourself, “He makes me so angry!” But blaming others for your feelings gives them more power. When you take control of your reactions, you own your feelings. It’s been said that, “Human beings are reaction machines.” Instead of reacting in the moment, slow down your negative thoughts and stay true to your values, even though the circumstances are trying.
  • Maintain perspective. There are reasons people behave the way they do. Sometimes the reasons are clear, while other times they are murky. Perhaps the bothersome naysayer you want to avoid is facing self-esteem issues, ongoing job performance errors, money problems, health concerns, or something completely different. We each behave in our own way when we have concerns that are weighing heavily on us. Understanding that there may be a deeper cause for the pessimistic persona wouldn’t cause me to excuse it, but I could more easily maintain a greater sense of perspective with it.
  • Ask pertinent questions. When someone has you cornered and is spewing cynical statements, try asking him/her, “How can I help you?” or “What are you going to do?” This strategy helps shift the topic from the negative problem to a possible solution.
  • Optimistically oppose. If you’re stuck in a situation where everything that is flowing out of “Gloomy Glen” is anti-positive, tentatively articulate kind, opposing statements. For example, if he says his food sucks, combat that with, “My food is pretty good. Perhaps, you could try some of mine, if you’d like?” Or if he says Paul (fellow employee) is such a pain to work with, optimistically oppose by saying, “I used to think of him the same way. Then I decided to focus on the positive difference he has made to our store, and that helps me view him differently.” If this tactic doesn’t influence a more positive tone right away, hopefully you have given this individual a little more to think about. At the very least, “Gloomy Glens” tend to move on to others when what they are getting from you isn’t satisfying their mantra.

Almost all of us have dealt—or are still dealing—with an annoyingly negative employee or an unbearable pessimistic friend. When facing someone who views the world through a negative lens, realize you can’t change him/her—as the only person you can change is yourself. Instead, understand that negativity comes in many forms, and we need to protect ourselves against it. Why? Because negative thoughts stick to us like Velcro and positive thoughts slide off us like Teflon. And chances are, you are taking that venomous snake home with you when you leave work. Instead, avoid being the innocent prey by taking control of who you spend your time and energy with. This way, you’ll be hanging with those you admire, enjoy interacting with, and often seek to emulate or learn from.

Dysfunctional and horrible work and home environments do exist. Manure happens! Instead of complaining or choosing to do nothing, “take the bull by the horns” and steer the positive change you want to see.