Wednesday, October 17

Buzz Killers

Some Things Are Private

Too Much Information

How Bad Can It Be?

"..Countering someone's negativity with your positivity doesn't work because it's argumentative. People don't like to be emotionally contradicted and if you try to convince them that they shouldn't feel something, they'll only feel it more stubbornly. And if you're a leader trying to be positive, it comes off even worse because you'll appear out of touch and aloof to the reality that people are experiencing.." - Peter Bregmann, "How to Respond to Negativity" - Harvard Review, Sept. 2012

A couple of days ago, I went to Famous Footwear to look around and find a great deal on a pair of shoes. While I was looking through the mark downs, a well dressed, petite woman in her sixties picked up a shoe I had just put back and started complaining about the prices. "We're all broke these days, so why can't stores give us a deal?" she said. "No one's got money so how are we supposed to buy things."

I noted her expensive boots, her tasteful hair style, her turquoise rings and fresh manicure, wondering why this person was complaining? When I walked in the store, I felt happy and adventurous, on the trail of the elusive "deal." She was an obstacle to my happiness. She was negative, and for no reason, as far as I could tell. She killed my buzz, but not for long.

"Oh, look at these cute shoes?" I murmured, hoping she would not notice them too. I tried them on. They fit. They sparkled (in a tasteful way). They were only $15!  "Hey! These are only $15. Can't get much cheaper than that, and they're Skechers!" I proudly announced. Forgetting the lady and her negativity, I moved on.

Later, I thought about the "can't do" attitude many people have these days. It's not uncommon for me to assist a customer with their purchase and hear them moan about how little money they have. Yet, they choose to spend what little money they have in my upscale store? Walmart is only a twenty minute drive away, so go there, I feel like saying. Instead, I listen to this toxic talk and wonder how I'm supposed to respond without becoming negative.

I recognize why people are negative. More and more people use negativity to connect with each other. It's the common ground of public discourse. It's what sells ads on radio talk shows, TV, and newspapers. Pundits become popular by putting down (fill in blank). Politicians create drama and interest in themselves by challenging the good in even obvious accomplishments.   As a result of the economic crisis of 2008, Americans have become drama queens of doom. We love our pain. We encourage our public servants to become clown-like, hurling snappy sound bites - words that wound especially. "Stand Your Ground" is the accepted mantra instead of "Find Common Ground."

This difference is where we are now, and the result is a grumbling, complaining, ungrateful populous. So, when I hear the, "we're all broke", whine from a person with enough money to buy stuff, I feel like shaking them, just like the manager in the article above. I feel like pulling back their curtain of doom and showing them that the Wizard of Oz is nothing but a blowhard with a bad attitude, and I know that that approach will not work.

The three-step approach advocated by Bregman might work but probably not for the whiners. It is a way to protect me from negative people in a graceful way. However, one of these days, I know I'm going to point out that people who are really suffering from poverty, deprivation, neglect don't have the energy to complain to someone like me in a shoe store. So "suck it up" whiner. Don't kill my buzz with your thoughtless, trite, comments about your financial struggles. Some things are private.  Keep it to yourself and think about how you can help real people in crisis. I've found that the quickest way to feel good about yourself is to help others and when you feel good about yourself the words that come out of your mouth will reflect that good feeling.  Now, that's what I'm talkin about!