10 Ways Negative People Can Be Useful

Penny ZenkerSTRESS MANAGEMENTLeave a Comment

The idea that all that is necessary for happiness and success is a positive, can-do attitude is comforting and romantic, but it is not always effective when put into practice. If you go to Amazon and type in “positive thinking,” you will find thousands of results for books and videos detailing how to think positive. Positive people are definitely a joy to be around and a welcome change in perspective, but you often need more of a balance to have an ideal mental state. Negative people can be very useful in creating a balance between positivity and negativity, along with being more willing to question situations.

Negativity is certainly less appealing than positivity, but in many ways it is necessary and practical. We associate negative people with aggression, lethargy, and generally being a jerk, but there are many more productive manifestations of negativity that are also on the spectrum. The perfect team has a balance of different kinds of people, each providing distinct skills and perspectives. Although being positive sounds much more fun, having a healthy amount of positivity and negativity is the best way to maximize your productivity and critical thinking.

What Purpose Do Negative People Serve?

Negative people have a bad reputation in our current society, but if you can see past their potentially annoying or discouraging traits, they can be extremely helpful in getting things done. Negativity stems from the feeling that something could be improved about the current situation. This may not be a fun possibility to consider, but it is often necessary in order to achieve at your highest level. If something can be improved, this inherently implies that there are solutions to fix it, which in the end is a positive thing.

Avoid Failure

Negative people may be less fun to be around than positive people, but in the end, they are more likely to accomplish their goals. Modern ideas in literature and psychology encourage positivity so much that we discount anything negative, but obstacles are inherently negative parts of life. We have to be able to focus on negativity to fix our problems. It is crucial to think about negative ideas and possibilities in order to avoid them, but the best way to succeed is to acknowledge them, think of a solution, and move on without dwelling on the negativity.

Strengthen Focus

Negativity is also a catalyst for solutions because, by its nature, it means that there is a problem, and problems will not be solved unless they can be acknowledged. Negativity is not just sadness and hostility, it also includes critical thinking and caution, which help you to be more alert and ready for any obstacles that may arise. When you are driving on a slippery road at night, the anxiety you feel will lead you to pay very close attention to where you are going, ultimately resulting in safer driving and fewer accidents.

Produce Better Teamwork

Studies have shown that the most successful and creative teams have a balance between positive and negative energies. The people on a team who are more disposed to be negative may emit stress-inducing emotions like hostility and irritation, but this causes surrounding team members to pay more attention to their results. Teams who only look at the positive side of things simply validate each other and avoid points of dissension. The tension between team members results in more thorough decisions because opposing people search for problems in their reasoning and then find proof to reinforce or reject their opinions.

Provide Balance

A balance between personality traits and ways of thinking is essential to a well-rounded individual and team. Research has shown that there is an ideal balance of positive thinking and negative thinking that results in the healthiest state of mind, and this is two-thirds positive and one-third negative. Positivity helps in the moment and can be immediately reinforcing, but over longer periods of time, it can cause potential setbacks to be ignored, leaving the person unprepared for danger. For both to enjoy the moment and be successful in avoiding danger and hardship, you must be able to strike a balance between positivity and negativity.

Keep You Grateful

Experiencing negative events or considering potential negative outcomes can actually help people to feel more grateful for the positive aspects of life. To consider this fact in the extreme, a new psychological practice called “death reflection” consists of visualizing one’s death using realistic scenarios, such as dying in a car crash. This has been shown to result in higher feelings of gratitude as it helps people to grasp their mortality and realize how close death truly is. When a person truly considers the terrifying reality that death could be around the corner at any moment, they then view life as a limited resource that they are not entitled to, bolstering appreciation for what they have.

Do You Need Negative People in Your Life

 Negative people are necessary in your life in order to point out issues and keep you questioning aspects of ideas and situations. Negative people can be extremely helpful, and they are different from positive people because they care enough to point out issues and concerns. We associate negativity with many unhelpful traits, such as hostility and lethargy, when in fact it is necessary to hone your ideas and find effective solutions. A complete lack of negativity does not reflect perfection, it usually simply means that you are not paying enough attention to the details.

Be cautious about taking advice from only negative people because they might not be helpful when you truly need to improve something. Positive people often ignore negative aspects, glossing over potential concerns and setbacks because this feels better and is immediately gratifying. However, this is unhelpful for building relationships and improving the workplace. Make sure to take into account the feedback and opinions of any “negative nancies,” because they will probably have the most critical and realistic eye for details.

Feedback is vital for increasing results and solving problems because without it, people have no idea whether what they are doing is successful. A mission without feedback is a pointless endeavor because if you have no knowledge of what you are doing wrong, you will have no chance to fix it. Negativity may be discouraging, but it is a needed part of any project, from decorating your house to planning for a holiday. You need a negative person to search for issues before they materialize, helping you to fix them more effectively when they arise.

How to Use Negative People in Positive Ways

If you know how to utilize negative people, they can provide incredibly useful feedback and opinions. Rather than discounting them as pessimistic and annoying, question their negative opinions and see if you can receive some concrete feedback from them. If you find yourself working with a negative person, give them the time and attention necessary to truly hear what they are saying. Here are some questions to consider to discern pointless complainers from detail-oriented realists.

While listening to their feedback, ask yourself:

  1. Do they suggest any solutions to the problems they point out? If so, listen to them; they might be useful.

  2. Do they struggle to trust other people’s new ideas as ways to improve? If so, they may simply be afraid of change, which is not helpful.
  3. Do they also acknowledge positive aspects of the project? Or, only negative? If they can only see negativity, they may be overly negative past the point of reason, which is unproductive in a project.

Along with these guidelines for figuring out if the negativity can be productive, look for specific comments when taking negative feedback. Ask why the idea won’t work, or what they would do differently in your place. If they have no detailed feedback, they might just be a pessimist who discounts ideas without thoroughly thinking them through. However, if a negative person has specific reasons for why something might fail, their skeptical eye might be just what you need to perfect an idea or find a solution.


Although negativity isn’t fun or exciting, sometimes it can be a catalyst for positive change. Acknowledging issues in a situation is crucial to solving them, and feeling negative emotions is often what ultimately motivates people to improve things in their lives. The key to using negativity to your advantage is letting it motivate you to make changes without becoming overtaken by it. If you can strike this delicate balance, you will benefit from being able to critically think through issues and identify problem areas without letting negativity overwhelm the positive aspects of life.

To reach your highest level of productivity and achievement, you need negative people to be honest about your mistakes. The next time you hear a coworker or friend complain, stop yourself from immediately writing them off as a “Debbie Downer,” and try to fully consider the reasons for their negativity. Beneath their irritatingly negative perspective, you may find the critical perspective necessary to be honest about a situation and solve its problems.

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