I have made it one of my goals to be a positive person. I try to find the good in every situation. I choose to be happy. Most days I succeed. But then there are those other days – the days I leave my house and have to interact with other people.
Not everyone has the same goal that I have to be a positive person. There are a lot of really negative people in the world. They complain about the weather, they complain about their health, their kids, their bosses, their spouses, the economy, how their clothes fit – it’s enough to make my inner Pollyanna curl up in the fetal position and cry for hours.
I could just stay home. That would solve my problem. I wouldn’t have to deal with all the whiny people out there. But part of me really wants to help them – and I need groceries once in a while. So I’ve come up with a really great, tried and true method of turning the world’s frowns upside down. It’s a two-step process I call “validate and distract.”
People who complain want to be heard and understood. They want validation for their feelings of dismay, hurt, and frustration. It’s easy to give them what they need. All you have to do is listen – and let them know you get how they are feeling. One comment like, “that must have been really frustrating” or, “I think if that had happened to me I would feel just as upset as you do,” is all it may take to diffuse a negative mood. But more is often required. Some people, when they discover that you are sympathetic to their feelings, will take advantage of your listening ear and unload a day’s worth, a month’s worth, even a lifetime of pent-up emotion on you. If you stick around for all of that, your perky positive attitude will suffer a horrible, painful death. So, what to do? You must distract them.
Everyone, no matter how miserable they think they are, has something in their life to be happy about. They may have a hobby they enjoy, or a grandchild they are proud of, or a nicely-mown lawn, or a favorite sports team, or a movie they can recommend. Ask them to tell you about one of these things. Or give them an honest compliment. If you say that you’ve always admired their taste in clothes and ask them where they bought the shirt they are wearing, you may still have to listen to them talk for a while about something more interesting to them than to you, but at least they will be doing it with a smile on their face.
Practice this on the people closest to you. Listen to their feelings, validate them, let them talk until you really understand how they feel and can convey your understanding honestly. Then help them segue into a topic that will allow them to speak and feel positively. If they slip back into negativity, validate them again, and then distract. Do this over and over until the conversation becomes more positive than negative. You will find that future conversations with people you have validated and distracted will be more enjoyable.
If one of your goals is to be more positive, and you have to venture out into the world for groceries once in a while like I do, it’s well worth your time and effort to learn how to validate and distract.