How do you respond to an overly-negative person?
After speaking at a breakout to pastors, a pastor approached me and asked a question. He asked, “What do you do when there is one person who is always trying to disrupt what you are doing? He is never satisfied with anything I do and he incites people against me. I know he’s going to complain about something every time I see him or his name comes up in my inbox. Honesty, I think he’s the one obstacle in us being all we could be as a church. He’s like an 8th grade bully who never grew out of it.”
That’s a paraphrase– but it’s a true story.
And you’re shocked. You’ve never heard anything like it before – right?
It’s certainly never happened to you. Correct?
Of course it has!
In my experience, most churches have one of these type people – – or more.
They remind me of reading 1 Samuel 17 and the introduction of the giant Goliath. These people are intimidating, disruptive, and, if we’re honest, frightening at times.
I need to say that I don’t believe these type people are as big an obstacle as we make them out to be in our mind. We allow them to intimidate us that way. And, they usually know it which is often part of their objective.
Thankfully, the ruddy shepherd boy David was willing to call the bluff.
But how should we respond?
7 ways to respond to overly-negative people:
Understand their pain.
I have usually found there is a story behind most of these type people. They have been injured at some point. Perhaps they feel the church let them down when they needed it most. Maybe they have had a hard time forgiving. They may have an injury in their personal life that hasn’t healed. They unfairly hold that injury against everyone else. Get to know them. Hear their story. Attempt to place yourself in their shoes. Sometimes God may use you to help the healing process. Understanding always helps you be better prepared to respond.
Pray for them.
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44). I find I see people in a different way when I pray for them. When I worry about approaching them, what they’re saying about me, or the impact they are having I never seem to impact the situation in a positive way. Prayer works. If it doesn’t change them — it always changes me.
Smother them with love. Genuine love. They likely need it. (And aren’t we commanded to do so?) You don’t have to love their actions, but we are called to love. The only way I know to do this is to love God first. If I can’t love the unloveable I always know it’s an indication of the quality of my love of God. Always.
Don’t say what they want to hear if it’s not true. Be honest with them. Chances are good that half-truths were a part of their history — causing them to be the way they are today. Be transparent and authentic with them. Be kind always — but don’t sugarcoat. I have learned that some of these type people are waiting until you push back. They’ll likely push you with bully tactics until you do. Stand firm.
Don’t let them dictate your actions.
When you give into a strong-minded, complainer-type person it never goes away. You’ll lock yourself in to being dictated by their negativity and complaints. You’ll only find more complainers. Or, they’ll find you. Because they know you’ll yield with the right (or wrong) amount of pressure.
Remember your calling.
Really negative people can sometimes make you feel like you are doing no good. It’s almost never true. This is a good reason to keep an encouragement file from past notes or emails you receive from people who appreciate your work. Go back and review some of them. Think about your past success — and how God has and is using you.
You were called to something. Seek your affirmation among the people God called you to minister to. Your calling probably wasn’t to the select agenda of a negative few. When complaints are at their highest — remember why are doing what you’re doing. You have a purpose. You have a passion. Renew it.
Confront when necessary.
It should be rare, but there are times you need to confront the one who is continually responding in an unbiblical way — in a very direct and firm, but still loving way. You need to call them on their sin. My Bible says to do everything without complaining. There are healthy ways to do conflict. We are to be kind to one another. Some people need help learning these truths just as others need help learning to tithe. It’s part of discipleship.
Practice the Matthew 18 model of confrontation. Don’t talk about them. Talk to them. Confront them about the way they are responding to you and ultimately to life. The crazy thing is they may not even know the damage they are causing.
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Used with permission from Ron Edmondson.