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Five Ways To Minimize the Impact of a Negative Person

negative person

So I’m an optimist. When I first started in leadership, I thought that every person had potential. If someone was negative, I thought they were just one step away from seeing the light and becoming positive.

As a few negative people came along, I decided to try to work alongside them. I kept giving them the benefit of the doubt, even letting them lead, each time thinking that they would eventually become more positive.

For the first few years of my leadership, I let negative people have too much influence for too long, completely out of the conviction that I was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s just say I learned the hard way that it doesn’t always work out that way. Some people are just negative people.

While I cared (and still care) about them as people, I began to realize the stakes are too high to give negative people a significant role in our community.

A good friend of mine says negativity is contagious. I agree. If you don’t deal with negativity head on, it can infect and impact your entire organization, not to mention the fact that it will discourage and possibly defeat you personally.

So what do you do?

How do you minimize the impact of a negative person?

Here’s what’s I’ve learned to do once I’ve identified someone as a negative person:

Negativity is contagious. Click To Tweet

1. Learn what you can but don’t dwell on their remarks.

If you approach situations with humility, you can learn from anyone every time. Find the nugget of truth in whatever they are saying about you or your organization, make the changes you need to make and emotionally and organizationally move on.

If you approach situations with humility, you can learn from anyone every time. Click To Tweet

2. Don’t allow them into leadership.

There is a world of difference between having a variety of different opinions around a leadership table and having a negative person around the leadership table. A negative person sucks the energy out of a room and out of good leaders.

3. Monitor their influence.

Negative people usually have a sphere of influence. In a healthy organization, that sphere is usually very very small. They have the same five friends they complain to every time they see them.

While that’s not admirable, it’s tolerable as long as their influence isn’t growing.  Because we have a philosophy of ‘anyone can attend, but not everyone should lead’, we try to make sure that negative people have a home.

Our desire is for them to grow in the love and hope of Christ.  (Please note this does not apply to staff, elders or leaders.  See #2 above. I only apply this to people who ‘attend’.)

We have a philosophy of 'anyone can attend, but not everyone should lead' Click To Tweet

4.  Help them see themselves accurately.

While this is difficult, it’s important to tell negative people who want more influence why you won’t give it to them.

Explain that there’s lots of room for leaders in your organization, but not for leaders with a negative agenda. You might even offer them ideas, books, and mentors to help them work on it.

People who want to change will grab onto this gladly. Perpetually negative people who wear their negativity as a badge of honour will run from it.

It's important to tell negative people who want more influence why you won't give it to them. Click To Tweet

5. Ask the destructive ones to leave.

I have only done this on a few, rare occasions.

Usually, these are for people who are not negative, but who are evangelistically negative. They’re not content to keeping their negativity to themselves; they insist others share it. Their negative becomes divisive, and in that case, they need to go.

Whether they hold leadership positions or not, destructively negative people can’t stick around. In case you’re wondering, that’s also what they did in the early church.

Want to grow yourself?  

So maybe you’re one of the leaders who’s so busy working in your business that you don’t have time to work on your business. There’s just no margin. You can’t breathe, and as a result, you’re not really thinking.

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In Conclusion

This isn’t easy, naturally, but it has been very helpful in our context. Try it for a while and you’ll have a team that has fewer politics, a real joy and a positive outlook. Those teams are teams most of us can’t wait to join.

What have you learned about minimizing the impact of negative people?

Five Ways To Minimize the Impact of a Negative Person


  1. Leah on October 25, 2019 at 7:15 pm

    Thank you so much for this. My husband just came on as Lead Pastor about a year ago and we are finding negativity has overwhelmed and completely infiltrated the staff at our church. After only 2 weeks half of the congregation left and now we’re seeing why. In the past year we have revisioned and are seeing a whole new feeling spring up in the congregation, but we’re not seeing significant changes in some key staff members. How do we deal with negativity that has already been given way too much leadership? This is especially concerning since it’s in our student ministry and it was all our younger families that left the church. We’re trying to rebuild this ministry, but the negativity feels like it’s undermining our efforts.

    Thank you so much for your helpful articles. You’re right when you say it drains your energy. Praying that God will speak life and hope to our hearts in the midst of everything. Your articles are a blessing.

  2. Dave on October 22, 2019 at 9:34 am

    Good thoughts for sure. There are times however when one really must consider psychological disorders. Leadership will never be able to satisfy a narcissist or a compulsive personality. We are not psychologists, but leadership needs to consider these types of disorders and the possibility they are at the root of an issue.

  3. Sunny on October 21, 2019 at 4:09 pm

    Very impactful

  4. Chuck on October 20, 2019 at 6:04 pm

    I wonder if in some cases (not the majority), a steady stream of negativity could be a sign of something more concerning, say burnout or depression or the line. A slippery slope. This isn’t everyone, but you’re the SME on ministry and burnout, what say you to us lay folks on the outside looking in?

  5. Roger Newsham on October 20, 2019 at 6:20 am

    I have found that a lack of good leadership has turned people once loyal, down a bitter path of negativity, because the direction of the church you serve in hasn’t changed in 10 years, reading out sermons and not applying biblical exposition to everyday life, then wondering in the dryness of a talk, why no-one comes forward for prayer. The negativity builds because you know you should have moved on many years ago, yet for the love of the church, loyalty to God, and no new orders, we remain faithfully serving but feeling increasingly negative.

  6. Susrut Mishra on August 8, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    Brilliant! Real life experiences. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Casey on June 27, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    What happens if that leader is the point leader?

    • cnieuwhof on June 27, 2013 at 10:19 pm

      Thanks Sara. And Casey…wow. That’s a biggie. If you have the relational currency to share the truth with the leader in love, do it. If not…I might be looking for a new organization.

  8. Sara on June 27, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    VERY timely! Thanks!

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