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Seven Signs You're Dealing with a Negative Person

While we’d all rather avoid it, negativity is a part of life.

Even though it’s unavoidable, it can derail you – even stunt your progress – if you don’t know how to handle it.

The first strategy for dealing with negative feedback is to determine whether you are dealing with negative feedback from a positive person or negative feedback from a negative person. You can read about that here. That distinction will help you develop a filter to figure out the difference between the two. Negative feedback from a positive person can almost always be helpful. Negative feedback from a negative person is rarely as useful.

So how do you know if you’re dealing with a negative person? Here are seven signs:

1. Their negativity is part of a pattern. You’ve seen their negativity before. Maybe they’re a frequent flyer in your inbox or at congregational meetings. But it’s not an isolated, out-of-character incident you’re looking at. The criticism you’re dealing with is ‘in character’ for them.

2. They’re negative about more than just your organization. Not only are they upset about something you or your team has done, but they’re angry about work, about a whole host of retail experiences, about how bad the world has become and long list of other grievances.

3. They fail the call display test. As subjective as this sounds, the call display test is a pretty good indicator of whether a person drains you or energizes you. When you see anyone’s name come up on your caller ID, you get an immediate emotional reaction to it. Sometimes you’re thrilled to see the name and can’t wait to take the call. Other times you’re neutral. But sometimes you wince. Whether it’s a phone call, a text or an email, you respond negatively and quietly think “oh no.” That’s a sign that the person’s overall influence in your life has been negative, not positive.

4. They are mostly against things, but never for things. Sadly, negative people rarely know what they stand for; they only know what they stand against. If the person you’re dealing with isn’t “for” anything positive, they likely have a negative worldview.

5. Compliments are usually followed by the word “but”. A positive person (and even a neutral person for that matter) can give a compliment. Negative people can’t. What starts out positively (“I really enjoyed the event today”) is inevitably followed by a “but” (“but had they turned the volume down and shortened the message it would have been better.”)

6. They aren’t accomplishing much with their life. Okay, this one sounds harsh, but it’s accurate. Truly negative people rarely accomplish anything great. Because they are against so much, few people want to work with them. Stalled out careers, a history of frequent job changes, financial trouble and other similar markers often characterize negative people. Sometimes they get notoriety (think angry bloggers), but beyond a few ‘angry celebrities’, most negative people do nothing significant with their lives. And I’m not sure you could call angry blogging or commenting ‘significant’.

7. They have no vision for the future. A negative person is almost never excited about the future. They have no compelling vision for what should be. They can just tell you why your vision is wrong. When you ask them for alternatives, they rarely have original or well-thought-out ideas.

Those are seven signs I look for to determine whether I’m dealing with a negative person.  In the final post in this series, we’ll look at how to handle negative people in your life and in your organization.

In the meantime, what are some signs that tell you you’re dealing with a negative person.  What would you add or change in this list?


  1. Abhishek malviya on October 14, 2018 at 11:37 pm

    I’m a negative person I guess🤔🤔🤔

  2. Tomspy77 on October 12, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    You are talking about me and go F yourself, you’re giving people license to ditch us and let us die and be alone…if YOU were a positive person, would your energies be better focused on helping us rather the killing us?

  3. Monique on September 8, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    I guess I have a question concerning what classifies a person as negative. What if a person has had repeated bad experiences with a leader (not keeping their word, saying negative things about them to others, etc.), & the person begins to question the heart & motives of the leader, resulting in them not being readily for the leader’s direction in many cases. Is that person negative?

  4. Sarah Covey on January 20, 2013 at 10:37 am

    This is also a helpful tool for self-evaluation. I am often concerned that I am falling prey to the “melancholy Cec” (as I like to call it) in me and allowing negative thinking to dominate. It is good to have a bit of a reality check to renew my mind. As always, a thoughtful and articulate blog post. Thanks!

  5. Jonathan King on December 11, 2012 at 3:14 am

    I love the ‘call display test’… Really true!!!

  6. Katie W on November 8, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    #5!!!!!!!!!!!! Watch our for people who volunteer to help but always have something to say. Also, #3 – my husband would not let me answer the phone when that certain person would call. 🙂

    • Carey on November 12, 2012 at 8:39 am

      You married well. 🙂

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