How deep is the workplace negativity scale burning around you? Seems to me, and maybe it is just my industry being in a downturn, it is at all time high levels. Conference calls and emails go out with an announcement of a cutback, lay off, major change and what happens?   I wait for the phone to ring with one of my firestarter friends ready to vent and rant.   It doesn’t take long with some, how do you handle it when that negative tirade begins?

First of all, I will stamp on my forehead, hypocrite.   For many years I was that guy! The first one to start up a raucous and garner support for a mutiny. I would love to pick up the phone and let it be known how ticked off I am at the way this and that was being handled.   When really fired up I could not wait to tell someone about it (righteous venting is good for you isn’t it?) and talk to my fellow negative crew to have them put gasoline on my fire.  If anyone is qualified to say it is not good for me or anyone else, I qualify.

There are many self help books and sites available to deal with internal negativity, one of my favorites and most helpful can be found under my Helpful Links tab  , the very first entry. If you struggle with bitterness and negativity it can no doubt be toxic. I battle it daily.   For those who have known me from the past, believe or not, I am getting better with handling that vein.

That being confessed, here are some tips I am learning to apply (still a ways to go…) on how to be a firestopper when you do receive that ring on the phone:

1) Don’t be that person!

Although you may think being a complainer and whiner proves you are strong and bold and makes you powerful, people really do not like it. Fight the internal urge to be that guy or gal.

2) When you know negativity is flowing, you do not have to own it.

Rolling vending machineOne of the most important things I have learned and am learning is words thrown at you can be rejected.   I picture a vending machine where thoughts, direct words, ads, commercials, or that person that has called to vent are rolling by. You only have to look at the sandwiches, but until you stop on the one you want and press order, you do not have to buy or own it.


3) Empathizing is ok.

Sometimes we do need to talk with someone when things are not going well. Do be that person that will listen to someone when they are struggling. Do discuss how you feel the same. But listen with the intent of bringing both you and that person back to a point of acceptance. I hate the cliché it is what it is, but many environments are in such a state. While the conversation is going, work towards changing the atmosphere in your own thoughts, understanding you may not be able to change the environment, but can cope.

4) Be a listening ear and a helping hand

Some people complain as a way of crying for help and there may be more underlying issues at hand. They may not be conscious of it though, so their comments come across as complaints rather than requests. Look to lend a helping hand. Instead of pouring oil on their fire (which is so easy to do) begin to halt the height of the fire with a “Are you okay?” or “Is there anything I can do to help you?”

5) Change the topic to the personal level

After giving a chance for them to discuss what you most likely are in 90% agreement, change it to, so how are you doing with all this?   How is your family handling the turmoil you are going through, because I know when I am stressed I take it out on them?   In other words, it is not the time to criticize their feelings, they are real. But do remember #2 and guard against the negative fire from burning you.

6) If it gets out of hand, Ignore the negative comments and move on

If the conversation is not changing and the ranting is continuing, it may be time to either put them on speaker phone for a while until a pause comes, then find a way off the call. A simple, hey I have another call coming, can we finish this later?  And make a note to reach out to them at a later time.   Honestly, I would not be here writing this moment were it not for caring people that helped me through my lows when they came.   Perhaps you are saying, who the h’ are you to give advice?  I am one who has been helped and hope my bad choices in the past help just one person to overcome the disease I  held.

7) Seek out the positive

Loyalty breeds loyalty.   In order to keep in the positive with any job, position, role or involvement in a group setting there will be negative. Make a list of all the positives and have it in your mind and add to it when more positives occur, you’ll need them.   Next time the firestarter arrives, be a firestopper with reminders of the positive.  Ie. I have 26 x 15 years of paychecks that have never bounced.   I get the chance to give my opinions once in a while without fear of being fired.   I work with a great group of people and have many loyal friends here.  I have heard the grass is not greener for Bob who went to __ and it was worse.     etc..

As I stated earlier, I don’t have this topic down and may have written more to help myself than you, lol.   I am always open to learning more on this topic, please add what helps you in the comments section. Or pipe up on the Average Joe Facebook page with what works for you. I will write in the future of when is it time to move on. Loyalty sometimes is not wise and you have to make a change.

Average Christian, care to discuss being a Firestopper or Firestarter, then…..



We people carry much more power than we actually imagine. You know when that negative person walks in a room or meeting and can turn the atmosphere into a downward spiral with their presence.   It can change the tide of attitude and set the tone if allowed to permeate every soul in the room.

How about being that person that changes the atmosphere to the positive when you walk in the room?   Click here for a great song to have in your mind the next time you walk in a room.   I have found it to be a great pre-conference call mood setter.

We can be positive Firestarters if we choose in any meeting.   In the book of Acts (which is the historical reference of what Jesus’ followers did after He died) was a story of how regular average Joe’s astonished the wisest men of the Jewish religions. Because they had God’s presence and power inside them they changed the atmosphere everywhere they went.  ‘The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.’    We as Christians have the same Spirit to carry, are you filled enough to use it?       See here for the full context of what happened in that meeting.

We may also be called upon to be firestoppers when negative arises. From experience I can talk about this topic until blue in the face. Instead I’d rather leave with this quote which my Pastor Mark Appleyard posted on his Facebook page:

“One of the main tasks of theology is to find words that do not divide, but unite, that do not create conflict but unity, that do not hurt but heal.” Henry Nouwen

Watch for an upcoming post that will discuss when and how it may be necessary to cut the loyal cord.

If you want a deeper dive on firestopper moments, here is an article worth reading on what are some reasons that disunity arises in the church and how to avoid them.