Listening to Negative People Will Make You Dumb

We all know those "energy drainers." They are the people that seem to have a perpetual cloud hanging over their heads. They have the keen ability to turn good news into bad news. Yes, they are the kind of people you avoid asking "How are you?" for fear they will give you an answer. Some are critics. Some are simply just negative people.

Brain Studies and Negative People

Minda Zetlin reports in Inc. magazine that new research in neuroscience demonstrates how negative and critical people affect us. She notes that "being exposed to too much complaining can actually make you dumb. Research shows that exposure to 30 minutes or more of negativity – including viewing such material on TV – actually peels away neurons in the brain's hippocampus. That's the part of your brain you need for problem solving."

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So what is the result of exposure to negative and critical people? "Basically it turns your brain to mush," the article notes. It has the same effect even if you are passively listening to them.

What's a Leader to Do?

Those in leadership positions are in a dilemma it would seem. Every position of leadership will always be exposed to negative and critical people. It goes with the responsibility.

Though leaders cannot avoid negative people entirely, we can incorporate some tactics that will help us deal with the matter more effectively.

•Discern the difference between the negative critic and the constructive critic. You really want to hear the latter person. You want to avoid the former if at all possible.
•Avoid negative media. Many leaders are drawn to negative television, radio, print media, and blogs like an onlooker is drawn to a car wreck. We just want to look. Before you begin reading or listening to the negativity next time, just remember that you will walk away dumber.
•Have a spirit of rejoicing. The Apostle Paul writes this imperative in Scripture: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4). The mandate is not only to rejoice, but to rejoice at all times. If we are allowing thoughts of rejoicing into our minds, we don't allow the words of negative persons and critics to enter.
•Choose your friends wisely. Avoid friends who are negative and embrace those who are not. You are likely to spend a lot of time with your friends. Make certain the time is well spent.
•Be a positive person. You will attract other positive people. And you may dissuade the negative person from being so negative.

Leadership Requires Focus

One of the greatest dangers a leader faces is to lose his or her focus. Much is expected of leaders. Indeed much is demanded of leaders. A constant barrage of negativity can prove to be extremely harmful to the leader and to the organization he or she leads.

And now we have medical and scientific evidence that shows the detrimental effects of negativity on the brain. It's not a pretty picture.

So next time you are confronted with a negative or critical person, consider practicing some of the tactics noted above. You might come away a happier person. You might come away a better leader. And you might even come away a bit smarter or, at the very least, not any dumber.

Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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