One of the most challenging relationships is one with a friend who often finds grievances or the negative in situations. Let’s face it. Life is never perfect, but some people always tend to focus on the negative.

Every experience with them has a negative aura. Nothing is ever good enough. Dennis Prager, the nationally syndicated talk show host, characterizes this phenomenon as the missing tile syndrome. No matter how much people may have—almost every tile is in place—they notice the one tile that is not there.

The truth is that some of us are wired more easily to be positive and see the blessings in our lives. Other people naturally are inclined to see the negative.

Story from the Rabbi: I remember once going out to dinner with family and friends and dreaded the meal because, more often the not, one of my relatives would somehow find fault with the food, call over the waiter and ask for a new dish or a refund.

We all possess friends or family who complain. It can be draining and exhausting. We mumble under our breath, “Not again.”

Here is the problem: We cannot always walk away. The person may be someone we love; it could be a family member or a coworker. Yet it can be so draining to be around them! They bring us down and turn what could be a positive day into a negative one. What can we do to deal with complainers in our lives? How do handle such people? How can we turn a complaint around? How do we keep the friendships? Here are five tips:

  1. Listen with empathy. Our inclination is to try to change people. We immediately criticize. Sometimes people just want someone to listen to them, to hear them out. Be understanding. This is the first step to allowing people to emote and also to strengthen the bond in your relationship.
  2. Reframe the situation. Listening is valuable but only up to a point. You have a right and responsibility to step in. Tell your friend, “I understand that you are upset by [fill in the blank], but did you maybe want to consider…” and offer another way to look at the situation. Help him or her find the silver lining or a way to give someone else the benefit of the doubt.
  3. Don’t preach. Rather than tell a person not to complain, model a positive outlook on life. Express gratitude. Be solution-oriented, not complaint-driven. Positive values are caught rather than taught.
  4. Just say “No.” This is not a contradiction to tip 3, but be ready if you need to help a constant complainer pause and stop. Tough love is sometimes in order to break the cycle of negativity. Do not be afraid—in private, ideally—to share your feelings.
  5. Choose life. Never forget you have a choice. You are responsible for your mood. No one else. Our fate may be a negative family member or coworker, but it is not our destiny to be dragged down by them. We choose how we see the world. Choose life. Be grateful. Smile. Life is a blessing.

You never know. Your attitude may just be the spark that lights the positive spirit of everyone whom you encounter. No baby is born to complain. People get into bad habits. If you stay positive, you may lift the world around you too!

Click here to purchase Rabbi Daniel Cohen’s book, What Will They Say About You When You Are Gone?

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