We are the change

Sticks & Stones: How to reduce the impact of negative people

I think it is safe to say that most people have experienced being on the receiving end of other people’s negativity at one time or another. I have worked with many clients on this very issue and have seen the devastating effects the interaction they have with a destructive person can have on their health and wellbeing. The relentless stream of underhand remarks, telling looks and being made to feel that you just don’t ‘fit in’ can drain a person’s self confidence as easily as sand through a sieve.

If you are experiencing a situation such as this or find yourself being preoccupied by what other people think about you too often, then fear not, you can do something about it. A heightened focus on what others think can stifle you, your happiness and your progress in life. I would like to encourage you to find some freedom from social pressures so that you can go after your personal goals with more enjoyment and ease.

In this article I would like to explore 3 challenging situations experienced by many which involve an amplified awareness of what other people think about them. These situations can lead to high levels of anxiety and are: a) when we make a mistake, b) when we let the opinions of other people affect the decisions we make and c) when another person seems to have it in for us no matter how nice we are to them!

Let’s take a look shall we…

Nobody’s Perfect

Recall a situation where you have made a mistake and found yourself being the subject of gossip or ridicule. How long did that situation stay with you for? Did you spend hours, days even months re living what happened?

We experience feelings of remorse after an event we wish we could change because in that emotionally charged moment it feels as though our actions have scarred us for life. We fret that our lives may never be the same again and obsess over what everyone else will be thinking about us. The shame of not being perfect can lead us to question everything about ourselves. We do of course come through the worst of the aftermath eventually, it just depends on how long it takes us to bounce back.

You can transform this post event downhill spiral into a process of (and not wishing to sound too new age here…) healing. If you think about it, what you need most after an incident that has left you feeling wounded is some soothing words, encouragement and a little TLC. Beating yourself up over what happened will only make you feel ten times worse and who does that benefit? You? Your family & friends who are around you whilst you’re in this self destructive state? Does it make the situation go away? Unfortunately it’s most probably a no to all of the above and if anything turning against yourself only makes the situation bigger and more painful.

A better and more productive mind set to adopt is to choose to be on your way to feeling good again sooner rather than later. In times like these the chances are that you are left feeling vulnerable and somehow inadequate. To fight off these feelings show yourself that you do have what it takes to stand up and be counted by providing the comfort that you need for yourself and move on. The actions you take immediately after a disappointing event are crucial and you have a choice to bounce back from it either quickly or slowly.

The next time you are feeling down after something has not quite gone to plan, perform this 3 point turn to get you back to feeling comfortable in your own skin again ASAP.

  1. Investigate – It may be difficult to look, but what is the full picture of what happened and why? What are all of the factors that led up to it? Understanding what happened is the first step to moving forward.
  2. Fix – Is there anything you can do to improve the situation? Do what is necessary towards ‘fixing’ what happened so that you know you have done all that you can and then draw a line under it.
  3. Rebuild – Take some ‘me’ time and immerse yourself in anything that will help you rebuild your sense of self. Time really is a great healer and you never know, one day you may actually be thankful that you had this testing experience.

Focusing your time and energy on moving on from these situations will enable you to find peace of mind when you need it most.

Puppet on a String

Some clients I have worked with have come to realise that they rest their self worth in the hands of others. Quite literally what other people say or do towards them is the gauge by which they measure themselves against. This is an unhealthy habit which can play havoc with our happiness without us even realising it is at play.

For some people worrying about what others think of them can act as a type of motivator of the “I’ll show so & so’’ variety. Ultimately however, keeping one eye on what people are thinking about our every move means we are not focusing 100% on ourselves. It also means we give other people permission to determine whether what we do is a success or is not a success. Just as it is liberating to define you for yourself in terms of self worth, it is also liberating to define what success means for you too.

A quest to impress others can actually hold us back as we censor everything we do for fear of failing and looking silly. This makes achieving our personal goals rather challenging as advancement means taking a few risks. Luckily as with all unhelpful behaviour patterns it is possible to break this habit and choose to reduce the influence other people’s negativity has upon us and the actions we take.

As the name of this section suggests, I would like you to visualise walking through your life letting other people’s opinions of you govern your every move as though you were a puppet on a string. Sound like fun? No I didn’t think so. A few years ago I found myself thinking about what my life may be like if I was lucky enough to make it to 80 years old. I wondered how I would feel about what I have achieved in my life and what I would wish I had done differently. I have come to call this the ‘Arm Chair’ moment.  Take a few minutes to imagine you are 80 years old and are in your ‘Arm Chair’ moment looking back and reassessing your life. Ask yourself:

1. What do I regret not doing?
2. What was the one thing that got in the way of my happiness?
3. Did I let other people’s negativity hold me back?
4. What would I do differently if I had my time again?

What does this exercise highlight for you? Do you think you will look back and think, “Oh I am so pleased I let what (insert name here) thought about me stop me from living my dream’’. Or would you think, “What on earth was I thinking. I should have gone for it. It was my life!”

The ‘Arm Chair’ visualisation helps to put things into perspective and can act as a gentle reminder not to let anything or anyone stop you from being happy. Does failing in the eyes of others serve as a good enough reason for you to not even try? As we only get one shot at life I don’t think anybody has the authority to quash your ideas, dreams or happiness, do you?

Unwanted Attention

We have all come into contact with people who seem to enjoy being negative about others, even when it is not warranted. Whether it is the office bully, the demeaning business associate or the acquaintance who tries to undermine you, there are some people who will test your sense of self to its limits. As an intelligent street wise individual, you’ll know that these people don’t feel very good about themselves and so that’s why they can be destructive. Even so working, living and coming into contact with them can be extremely draining and still manage to leave you questioning yourself.

So how do you reduce the impact a destructive person has upon your wellbeing? Recognising that their behaviour is unreasonable is the first step. Then you have a choice to either acknowledge what is happening or to rise above it. However you feel comfortable in dealing with it will of course depend on the situation and what connection this person has to you. Nevertheless there are a few subtle and effective behaviour shifts you can make to help you feel better in the situation and subsequently reduce the impact this person has upon you.

1. R – E –S – P – E – C – T (Self)

The first thing to do is to stop viewing yourself as being a victim when you are around this individual. It is a significant point that we show people how to treat us. If you change how you view yourself you will change the message you communicate as to how people, and this individual in particular, should interact with you. Reclaim your place as an Equal in the situation by practising (and it does take practice, especially if this person has been jabbing at you for a while) rising above their behaviour.

If you feel yourself becoming anxious in a situation with them then think of the people in your life that make you feel great and imagine they are there with you (sounding a bit new age again I know but bear with me..) or anything that makes you feel calmer. I had a client who imagined her pet dog was with her when she went into a difficult meeting with a colleague who had been trying to turn other team members against her for some time. She found this image instantly relaxed her and made her feel more comfortable in the situation. The result was that she was able to stay focused and articulate herself more confidently.

Your life is a lot bigger and richer than the interaction you have with this negative individual. Draw upon the ‘good stuff’ to put things into perspective and boost your confidence in dealing with them.

2. True Colours

Again depending on what you feel comfortable with, it may be appropriate to make them aware that you have noticed their behaviour. Being aggressive would only mean you stoop to their level and besides shouting and screaming never really gets us anywhere.

A way to let them know that you are ‘on to them’ whilst at the same time demonstrating your strength and/or professionalism is to raise it with them with a “I’m sensing communication between us on this project could be better, it would be great to find middle ground..’ type approach. The trick is to use non-confrontational language such as ‘you’ or ‘your’ but to make it more situational. This positions you as the voice of reason and will keep the line of communication open between you. It is good to remain open to seeing things from their point of view (that is of course if they have a point to make) because as the more reasonable, solution focused individual you are giving them an opportunity to match your wise position in broaching the situation once and for all.

Often just making people aware that you are one step ahead of their ‘game’ will shock them into changing their behaviour. Individuals who are displaying bully type antics secretly want to be liked as insecurities drive their behaviour. The last thing they want is to be ‘found out’ by you and others in your environment as to what their true colours really are.

3. Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Many pioneers in wellbeing and personal development speak of choosing what you allow to come into your experience. This can be an extremely effective way of dealing with destructive people because what we focus on in life creates our experience and subsequently, how we feel. In effect by choosing not to react to somebody who is clearly trying to make you feel bad, you take the fun out of their antics. Any bully whether it be on the playground, in the office or in your social circle, thrives on seeing their target react passively or aggressively to their campaign. By choosing to focus on the positive things in the environment you share with that person such as other people you get on well with or just having a good time, you demonstrate loud and clear that they have no control over you. In time their attention on you should wane as you choose not to give their mind games the time of day.

This article really only scratches the surface of a topic which I feel is paramount to our happiness and wellbeing. If you can get better at not letting other people’s negativity towards you impact how you feel and the actions you do or don’t take, then you will find it easier to live and enjoy your life fully. In closing I would like to urge you to deal with such people and situations by a) staying true to yourself, b) refusing to play the victim and c) carrying on regardless with a big smile on your face.

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  1. I'd rather stay anon! says

    Brilliant, insightful and timely as ever Donna. Thanks.

    1. Donna Joy Hubbard says

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment. I am delighted you found it insightful.
      If you are currently in a situation echoing the above then don’t worry, you can change things. The first step is to remind ourselves that change starts with us. Experiment with viewing yourself and the situation differently and you’ll find that small changes will make a big difference. I’d love to hear how you get on.
      Best wishes,

    2. Dyan says

      I try and Live by the quote “Motivation does not last-neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend you do it daily” Thanks for being my bath water today.

  2. Julie Hall says

    This is such a brilliant article Donna … it seems to have really struck a cord for a lot of people.

    1. Donna Joy Hubbard says

      Thanks Julie. I am really pleased it has proved interesting for readers. I’m thoroughly enjoying contributing to WU. Look forward to catching up soon. Donna

  3. lesley orchard says

    your article helped me so much. I am in my sixties and some women in my age group are often unhappy in a big way! I find their negativity very demoralising but cannot bring myself to challenge them because I feel so sorry for them. They have often become used to controlling their families and think they can behave the same way with ‘friends’ They seem to get together in groups e.g coffee mornings and battle it out together!
    i wonder if this female aggression is totally normal and I should just join the fray! Prefer to spend time with my husband horse and cats!

    1. Donna Joy Hubbard says

      Hello Lesley,

      Thank you for your feedback. I am so pleased the article has helped you.

      The next time you find yourself having to interact with one of these women, get through it by focusing on the ideal outcome that you would like. For instance your ideal outcome may be that you want to walk away from the situation knowing that you were the best of you (rather than let their negativity rub off on you) whilst also quietly assertive by not accepting unreasonable behaviour.

      If you find yourself feeling demoralised by their antics, think of all of things you love in your life, like your husband, horse and cats, to bring you back to feeling good again. Stooping to their level would mean changing who you are and make you feel even worse. The fact that you refuse to do this is inspiring for others who may be in a similar situation.

      I would also suggest asking yourself if it would be worthwhile reducing the amount of time you spend with these people? Even if you don’t see them much currently, would reducing it further (albeit subtly) make you feel better? Is your connection with this group adding anything to your life?

      Do drop me an email and let me know how things go. I’d love to hear from you.

      Best wishes,

  4. Jo says

    Thanks Donna for such in depth info and practical advice. It’s come just at the right time for someone I know who is dealing with a difficult situation at work. I’m forwarding it to them right now.

    1. Donna Joy Hubbard says

      Hi Jo,
      Thank you so much for sharing this with your friend. I hope it is of some help to her. If she would like any further support just tell her to contact me and we can chat her situation through.
      Hope life is great in Perth! I went there a few years ago, it’s a beautiful part of the world.
      Best wishes,

  5. Cassie says

    Hi Donna,

    Thank you for that very positive article, I have been in a similar situation with a certain female at work and it is all very negative. She needs to be centre stage and I’m afraid I don’t put anyone on a pedestal and this she can’t seem to cope with. This article has helped me a lot and I will take note.

    Kind regards,


  6. Donna Joy Hubbard says

    Hi Cassie,

    Thank you for getting in touch. I am really pleased the article has offered you some support in dealing with your situation.

    Sadly your colleague’s behaviour does suggest she is seeking recognition from others because she is not totally sure of herself. We would hope one day that she would be able to overcome this for her own happiness. However, it doesn’t excuse her for making you feel like an ‘outsider’ for not dancing to her tune. This must be extremely draining for you.

    As you can’t change or control her behaviour, a helpful approach is to focus on what you can do to create an improved working relationship with her. Would it be possible to find any kind of common ground with her whilst not at any time compromising who you are? Difficult I know when you are finding somebody challenging but it’s not impossible and worth a try if it could make working with her easier. As mentioned in the article, would focusing the majority of your energy on the ‘good stuff’ at work help you to feel less sapped by her actions?

    As you have to work together finding ways of improving the situation will have an extremely positive impact on your wellbeing.

    Good luck with it all. I would really like to hear how things go.

    Best wishes,

  7. anon2011 says

    Hello Donna

    Really enjoined your article. I wish I read it earlier before giving the office bully “a piece of my mind”. I now know that there are options for working with this person and not losing my peace. Really looking forward to trying out your recommendations when I get back to work next week.

    The person in my office causing the challenges is female and she lies and backstabs, but she plays a really “good game” and the senior managers can’t see through her…I can and it seems this is what she fears…she also lied her way to get a promotion recently…..I am used to working with men, so not sure if this type of behaviour is common in female domainated envirionments.

    1. Donna Joy Hubbard says


      Thank you so much for getting in touch.

      Please do experiment with some of the strategies discussed here. It may also help to create a goal for the situation such as: I will be & give the best of me at work and deal with any challenges such as destructive behaviour calmly & professionally. Put something together that resonates with you and it will help you to see the wood from the trees when you feel dealing with this individual is becoming too much.

      Perhaps review the kind of image you have of this person in your mind too? It is common for us to subconsciously contribute to the ‘dangerous’ picture we have of a person such as this by building them up in our minds. This amplified image makes it harder for us to keep our heads when dealing with them because we are already filled with pent up anger before an interaction has even begun. Replace the existing image you have of her to one that makes it easier to work with her. You may even find that you feel sorry for her for having to be this way?

      In the words of a client of mine who was receiving negative attention from a female member of the Management team, “Women can be and are great to work with”. To counterbalance your experience with this individual it would be good to note those women you have a healthy working relationship with, as well as any female friends you know to be really supportive of their colleagues.

      Let me know how taking a new approach to dealing with the situation goes. I wish you every success.

      Best wishes,

  8. kathy higgins says

    Fantastic article and I have read this just at the right time for me! Having to deal with such a person right now! A big name in my industry. But trying to make me a puppet on a string. Not any more though.

    1. Donna Joy Hubbard says

      Hi Kathy,
      Great to hear from you. I’m really pleased the article has been of help. I wish you every success in finding your strategy for overcoming this person’s behaviour.
      Let me know how things go.
      Best wishes,