This Simple Practice Will Help You Deal with Toxic People
I get it. It's so hard to let go of things in our lives like stocks or a ratty old college sweatshirt. Now imagine how hard it must be to take the same advice about people. People we might still be passionate about and still have emotional connections to. People who maybe helped us through, saved us, made us see the light once upon a time. But you must.
The most significant factors in your life are the people around you—your relationships. If you change nothing else when it comes to execution for success in life and business than the people you spend your time with, you will have increased your chances of success tenfold.
Which is why every year I don't just take stock of the things in my life. I take stock of the people I spend the most time with. I arrange them into categories: those who lift me up and those who bring me down. The people who radiate positivity and energize, challenge, motivate, inspire and support me? They're my winners! Those who ooze negativity and drain my energy? They aren't positioning me to win. I need to spend less time with them or even let them go for now if not forever.
This process is what I call a life audit, and it is a huge key to optimizing relationships to execute at the highest level.
Accentuate the Positive and Eliminate the Negative
Life audits are a powerful process to remove the negative and surround yourself with amazing people who allow you to step into your own greatness. That's how you hear the call of your own potential and get to where you want to go. While this might sound like the kind of clinical, right-brain madness a tech entrepreneur might come up with, it's actually a very heart-centered process! Through it you can create a more productive, inspiring and emotionally fulfilling life.
That sounds nice, right? It's all about being active, engaged and fully present in living the life you've got. We can't always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond.
To keep us having faith that whatever happens can be for the best, that we are capable of amazing things, and in spite of what we read on social media, that the world is full of love, generosity and opportunity, we need to focus on the right relationships. That said, it is never easy to let people go. In fact, it is usually hard and painful.
Audit, Audit, Audit
I remember the first person I audited out of my life: a close friend from college. We used to have the kind of wide-ranging conversations that always left me feeling invigorated. Sure we talked about the problems we experienced in life and at work, but we never got bogged down too long in the negative, and we used the time to try to solve those problems.
Then, things changed.
At first, it was only the occasional comment about a kid's teacher, a client or our waiter. But soon enough, she seemed to be talking badly about other people all the time—people who were our friends! Every discussion about every topic seemed to turn negative. She rarely celebrated or led with the positive, if at all. Our conversations became, in a word, toxic—draining and exhausting, which in turn affected my mood at home or at work. I tried to talk to my friend about it, keeping things positive and asking if something was wrong, telling her that all our negative conversations were becoming too much to bear.
"Is there something you aren't telling me? Did something happen that I should know about? Do you really feel this way? Is there something I can do?"
I offered to listen and tried to steer the conversation toward positive and future focused topics. Nothing worked. I struggled with what to do. I wanted to be a good friend and support her, but the negative impact it was having on me was too great.
So, I audited her out. I started distancing myself from her, turning down invitations to get together. Could I have stuck around longer? Perhaps. I was sure she was saying something negative about me to someone else as a result of my audit, but I couldn't worry about that. I had tried in good faith to salvage what we once had. It was hard, and yes, at first, it felt bad. It was not the easy choice. But this is where relationships need the power of resilience: you need to overcome the emotional connections that can blind or bind you to this toxicity. We can't always "fix" bad relationships, especially when the other person doesn't understand something needs fixing.
I resolved to let go of my friend to give myself more time and energy for those in my life who were going where I was going, who lifted me up, who shared positivity and who saw possibilities and hope even in hardship.
Some of my friends think it's a little bit ruthless the way I toss out the negative people from my life, but I don't see it that way. Because it's not just about eliminating the negative. It's about accentuating the positive. Sure, there are limits to this concept and places where complexities and challenges arise. In these areas, it's important to look at setting boundaries.
- Familial relationships bring a specific set of complexities. You might have parents who are very negative people and who criticize you often, and you need to draw boundaries and limit the time you spend with them. If you have a toxic, abusive relationship with your parents, you may need to distance them from your life completely.
- You may have other family members who aren't always a plus, but you aren't able to remove them from your life because they are deeply connected to people you love. You just have to minimize the impact they have on you directly.
- You could have friends, once pluses, who are going through extremely difficult times beyond their control, people who are dealing with such life events as an illness, death of someone close to them or even the loss of a job. They need you and sometimes your positivity to help them through the negative. You need to keep them close.
- You can't use life audits to eliminate workplace responsibilities with people who are negative.
Simply put, you need to set boundaries for yourself when doing life audits. There is no way to eliminate all negativity from your life. But by bringing in more positivity, you can mitigate the effects of the negative parts you cannot control. The choice you do have is whether to have a negative or positive attitude when responding to others. Staying positive is a choice—not always an easy one in some relationships but still a choice to not let the negativity affect you. Choose positivity. I know you can.
Adapted from The Execution Factor: The One Skill That Drives Success. Copyright 2019 by Kim Perell. Published by McGraw-Hill Education.