Do you know someone who always takes the conversation to the negative side? Someone who doesn't seem capable of seeing the positive? Ever. Perhaps they're always complaining about something or someone. Is there a way to change the situation?
I was reminded recently of a lunch conversation I'd had with a friend some years ago. She was complaining about her grandchildren. For the sixth time in as many months. How they had done this misdeed and that misdeed. How they wouldn't listen. How they thought they ruled the roost.
"You don't like your grandchildren, do you?" I finally asked my friend.
The mortified look on her face told me I'd hit a nerve. "I LOVE my grandchildren," she insisted. "Why would you ask such a question?"
"Then tell me something wonderful about your grandchildren," I pleaded with her. "I've never heard you say one positive thing about them. Not even once."
I'll admit that my initial response was a tad too direct. Perhaps even harsh. Done out of frustration. And at the risk of negating my admissions, I will also say that my approach changed the course of our conversations after that. Which made me realize that I had been enabling the negative aspects of our conversations during all our encounters.
I'm certainly not adverse to helping friends through difficult times. I do this all the time. But I also want more positive interactions with the people in my life. So in order to bring that about, I must first take responsibility for my part in those interactions.
If I'm enabling the negative, then by virtue of my part in things, I can also enable the positive. Or at the very least, try to help someone see the positive side of things. I can't make them stay there. But I can be a positive influence.
So how do you shift seemingly endless negative conversations into positive ones without stepping all over the other person's self-esteem?
Here are 5 easy steps:
- Park your judgments. By all means, help a friend through challenging situations. But stay positive with your goals of a more positive exchange with your friend. NOTE: Judgment most definitely rolled off my lips in the example I used above. I'll own that. I realized afterward that it wasn't necessary to get the results I really wanted.
- Ask an open-ended question that will bring focus on the positive. (i.e. What do you love about your grandchildren?)
- Ask the person to tell you a story about a good time they had while or with ______ fill in the blank. (i.e. spending time with your grandchildren)
- Listen intently. Engage your friend with eye contact and openness. Share in the joyful experience. Smile. Say how it makes you feel to hear such wonderful stories.
- Thank your friend for sharing the lovely things shared. An attitude of gratitude stands a better chance of more positive conversations in the future.