We have all been in the situation it seems; surrounded by negative people whose only joy in life seems to be finding something to complain about. Those teachers that cannot wait to share how terribly a child did, those teachers that cannot wait to discuss how awful a new initiative will be, or even just how overwhelmed they feel. And you know what, at some point we have probably all been one of those teachers, I know I was! And we usually don’t even know it.
So what can we do if we find ourselves surrounded by the negative? How do you move beyond it, inspire change, but not look like you are complaining yourself?
First idea is to reflect; are you adding to the negative? Are you getting sucked into the conversations? Are you adding fuel to the fire? Misery loves company and it is so easy to get wrapped up in a juicy story about a demanding parent or how there was another stupid idea proposed. If you are even a little bit guilty of participating in these conversations, stop. Catch yourself in the act and change your own direction. Change your narrative and share the positive. This doesn’t mean you cannot discuss hard situations, just change the way you phrase them.
Second idea; change the immediate conversation. So if someone starts to complain, see if you can spin it in a positive way. If a child is being discussed, highlight something positive. If you see a conversation turning into something that will not benefit you and you cannot change it, you also have the right to walk away. Even if you like the person speaking, nothing says you have to be a part of it. Sometimes our actions speak louder than words.
Third idea; acknowledge the negative and then try to problem-solve. If the negative continues to surround you, acknowledge it because sometimes people don’t even know they are doing it. This doesn’t mean calling them out in an uncomfortable way, but just acknowledging that what they are saying seems to be bothering them and if they are looking for someone to problem-solve with. We all have days where we need to release some of the energy that seems to be haunting us and sometimes discussing it is our way of reaching out to work through it. So offer to be that person, withhold judgment, and try to alleviate the negative.
Fourth idea, look for the positive. Sometimes our own perception makes a person seem much more negative than they really are. Are you seeing them as a whole person or just someone who complains? Make sure your own thoughts aren’t clouding a situation.
Fifth idea, get to know them more. We don’t always know what is going on in someones life and sometimes when they are complaining about little things it may be an indicator that their life outside of school is stressful right now. I know I have a much lower tolerance for anything when I am too busy outside of work or not sleeping well because of stress. So if someone seems to take a turn toward the worse, see if you can find out what is going on. Express your concern, be there as a friend, and remember to see them as a human being. We all have bad days. We all have moments where we are at our lowest.
No one comes to work meaning to be the negative force, no one walks into a social situation hoping to change it into a vent fest. Sometimes it just happens, sometimes life gets the better of us and we don’t know that we are “that” person. When all else fails, you just have to shrug it off. Continue to be a positive force for good, continue to keep yourself in check, continue to be aware of what you put out in the world. We are not able to change other people, but we can change the environment we teach in in small ways. What do you do to diffuse the negative?
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.