Copyright Dmitrii Shironosov,

You are indeed fortunate if all, or even most, of the people in your life are a positive influence. Maybe you were told at a young age that “you can do it” the first time you hoped on a two-wheel bike, auditioned for the school orchestra, tried out for the field hockey team, or stood up to the neighborhood bully.

Unfortunately, most of us encounter people who seek (sometimes unknowingly) to bring us down with their negativity in the name of:

“I’m just trying to be realistic and practical. It’s a long shot.”

Turn the Challenge into a Positive Influence

One practical coping strategy is to take the negativity as a challenge, with an approach that goes something like this: “I’ll prove them wrong.” For example, we have heard people say, “You think I can’t do it; I’ll show you” or “You believe my decision makes no sense. You will eat those words.”

It’s a familiar story. Zane Grey, who wrote 90 books that sold some 50 million copies, faced multiple rejections of the first manuscripts. In fact, one editor told him: “I don’t see anything in this to convince me you can write either narrative or fiction.” Yet Grey persevered, because he wanted to prove them wrong and believed he had stories to tell about the American West that people would want to read.

Gerry, a GE engineer we interviewed for this project, told us about an early negative experience in his life. His high school guidance counselor laughed when Gerry said he wanted to go to college and study engineering. When the counselor told him, “You can’t do it”—Gerry was motivated to prove her wrong. As he told us, “It gave me a chip on my shoulder.”

Jennifer, another person in our study group, was asked skeptically by her mother, “What are you going to do with a history degree?” Jennifer then set out to prove her mother wrong, as she moved from intern to a permanent position and on up to chair and curator at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. As Jennifer told us, “I didn’t see [my mother’s question] as a negative factor, but I did see it as a challenge.” However, she was also quick to acknowledge that her mother’s passion for American history helped create Jennifer’s love of history.

What’s been your experience dealing with negativity? Do you embrace it as a challenge? We’d love to hear your story.

For more stories of how people deal with the forces of negativity, pick up a copy of our new book, Positive Influence: The Leader Who Helps People Become Their Best Self (HRD Press, 2020).