A close friend of mine wrote this on Facebook today:
It’s almost 1am and I’m losing sleep due to a negative encounter with another person at work today.
What strategies do you use to prevent people from ruling your head and making you lose sleep?
Originally, I wanted to respond on the post. But I have too much to say on the subject so I will respond here instead! This is something I think a lot of us have dealt with in our lives. This is something I’ve taken a lot of time to deal with and hopefully one day master. It’s a mix of knowing how to talk to people and how to regulate your own emotions.
It requires caring about what matters and disregarding what doesn’t.
Sometimes, people will twist your arm or trick your brain into thinking that what matters to them should matter to you. That if they use guilt statements, you will give in. Or if they use angry/belittling statements, you will submit. These are defensive tactics people use because they’re busy trying to take as much from other people to give to themselves. I like to combat that by taking as much as I can from myself to give to others. Toxic people are poisoned by ideas and life experiences and it’s not our job to detoxify someone else’s life. Everyone is responsible for their own cleanse.
Below are Two Strategies that I’ve used to find a balance in my life where I’m living the way I choose to live and not being overly affected by the negative people in my life.
1. There Are Only Four Relationship Roles
Break down human relationships to the hunter/gatherer days when you only had yourself (or yourself and your tribe). The biggest concerns was “what is edible and not edible” and “what is dangerous and not dangerous”. So if something is edible and not dangerous, that’s like a vegetable or a fruit. If something is edible and dangerous that’s like a poisonous plant or something you hunt like a wolf or a bear. If something is not edible and dangerous, that’s Mother Nature: tornados, floods, blizzards, etc. And if something’s not edible and not dangerous it’s just everything else, the fodder of the world that you can use to your benefit or simply ignore.
Now continue this line of thinking towards relationships today.
Instead of using “edibility” and “danger” as our focal points, we are going to break it down more simply to “usefulness” and “harmfulness”.
If someone is useful and harmless, that’s an ally. Useful but dangerous? A temporary ally. Someone you work with for the time being but you’re still sleeping with one eye open. Dangerous and useless? That’s an enemy. And finally, useless and harmless, a pawn. Someone that can be useful in the future or not.
Friends have told me this outline seems bleak but it really isn’t. When you understand someone’s relationship to you, it puts in perspective where they belong in your brain, whether or not they deserve to be occupying headspace when you got other things to be concerned about. So in the case of my friend above, let’s say the person in question is a customer. You want them to buy your product but you don’t want them to be rude to you or attack you personally. So they start off as a temporary ally because you want something out of them (sales, customer loyalty, etc) but then they personally attack you. It makes you question how valuable is this customer and are they walking towards enemy territory. Because if they are going to bring you down, give you anxiety, make you depressed, or generally make you enjoy your job less, then that one customer is simply not worth and not someone to care about.
They don’t deserve space in your head.
There’s many ways to play this out depending on the customer’s response and the negative impact. But I have a general rule in life: If someone is making me lose sleep and that someone isn’t my 8 month old baby, then they aren’t worth it. Maybe one day down the road those relationships can be repaired if the other party is ready and willing but your time and energy is precious and if you waste it on negative people, you’re going to tread water and go nowhere.
Find out where people fit on that grid of “usefulness” and “harmfulness” in your own life and act accordingly.
2. Walk Towards Your Values
I left my job this year and there was a mixed response. Some people were popping champagne and celebrating that they didn’t have to deal with me anymore. Others were sincerely going to miss me and had a good time working with me. Others were resentful and found passive-aggressive ways to make me feel bad about my decision. Not wanting me the right to choose my own choices. Others didn’t care either way, I was useless and harmless to them so it was no hair off their back.
The negative responses were hard to digest. I heard a lot of the same rhetoric that I was making a mistake and being irresponsible because my son was just born. One person told me I needed to grow up and work a normal 40 hour job like everyone else. Someone else told me that I was easily replaceable, immediately rejecting the contributions I’ve made in that workplace over the course of five years. When I left, I left with only one regret: That I didn’t leave sooner. Specifically that I didn’t leave the 40 hour contract. I still work for facets of the company on a freelance basis and I don’t mind helping in an emergency situation, but I just wished I had made this decision sooner.
My son was the catalyst of my choice. I knew the rational choices I had to make in my life: Leave the contract that was making me unhappy and pursue the things that make me happy, eat better and move more so I can lose weight, stop relying on other people’s validation as a marker of my own success. The rational choices were in my head but I couldn’t make them. It wasn’t until I made the emotional choice to walk towards my values for the sake of my son that I could comprehend on a deep personal level why I had to make these choices.
I didn’t want my son coming up to me one day and saying, “Dad, you admire risk taking and standing up for what you believe in and having a positive impact on the world but you stayed at a job you didn’t like to make money and used that money to get yourself fatter and sicker everyday.” Because that would have been the path if I continued doing the safe thing and not the right thing.
I wasn’t walking towards my values.
The more I walk towards my value, the less any of that noise matters. I know what my essentials are and I walk everyday to my highest contribution. EVEN IF I FAIL I would rather fail chasing after what I believe in then fail by doing nothing at all. It’s a win/win. And as much as we need to separate rational choice and emotional choice, we need to do that with success too. There’s monetary success and emotional success. Define for yourself what you believe in and what you value and if you live according to that?
You’re a success. Congratulations! You made it.
How do you face negative people in the workplace? What’s your method of defense? Any advice from your own life you have for my friend here? What about stories where you were faced with the same obstacles and overcame?
Clifford Myers is a standup comedian from Hamilton, Ontario who loves his friends and wants them to succeed in every area of their life.