Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Ask Joe: Setting boundaries and shifting negative mindsets

Ask Joe: Setting boundaries and shifting negative mindsets

Yulia Sutyagina/Getty Images

Dear Joe,

I have a friend who seems to come from a negative mindset when it comes to challenges in her work life and love life. Often, when I hear her stories, I wonder if she isn't the catalyst for a lot of the negative things that are happening to her. For example, perhaps her boss shut her out because of the initial suspicion she brought to their interaction. I will sometimes make suggestions to encourage her to see and approach things in a different way, but it rarely helps. I often feel drained by chats with this friend. Is there a better way to support her without feeling like I'm being dragged into negativity?

Thank you,

Negative Overload

Hey Overload,

Yeah, this is a tough one. No one wants to hear that they are negative or that they are having a draining effect on people they know and love. How do you stay in a relationship with this person and also take care of your needs and your own boundaries? One of the Respectful Confrontation premises asserts that you can’t change people, but you can influence behavior. It’s not your job to change them, but you can clarify the impact their behavior is having on you. People don’t change; they transform. And what transforms are their viewpoints, habits and patterns.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

For instance, telling someone to “stop being a climate denier” means you want them to change what and who they are. That seems like aggression to me. Perhaps a better approach is to identify what their viewpoints are on climate change, and from there, slowly, respectfully, compassionately support them in seeing the impact of their actions, and, eventually, explain different viewpoints. This allows them to consider shifting their viewpoints in a way that works for them. With a shift in viewpoints comes modifications in habits and patterns. You didn’t necessarily make them change; you influenced their behavior.

How can you apply this to your friend? First, identify and clarify your boundaries. How much of the negativity will you tolerate before it starts having a challenging impact on you? Once you have established this, then you can be clearer in communicating with your friend. Here are some options:

Offer an alternative. For instance, “Wow, interesting that you see it that way. I see it differently. I see where there could be a hopeful outcome. Are you open to hearing?” Note that I always try to replace “I disagree” with “I see it differently.” The former sets up an opposition. The latter still values the beliefs of the other, and invites a deeper discussion of a topic that can be exciting and illuminating. Do this every time they begin to complain.

Name the behavior. Another example: As your friend begins their pattern of negativity, you may want to address it right away and name it without being critical or judgmental: “Wow, your viewpoints seem pretty gloomy to me. Is that the way you see it?” They may not see that they are negative and be surprised by your comment. You could then follow up with, “Interesting, because I have found recently that a lot of your conversations take on this tone. Are you open to discussing?” In this way, you give them the option to discuss further or not. Note that saying “to me” and “I have found” implies that you are simply stating your truth in this situation, not claiming that you know it all.

Set fierce boundaries. This is something I would only recommend if you feel you have no other options. It can be a risk if not approached well and if the other is not in a receptive state. I actually applied this with a family member who complained all the time. It was draining me and making me not want to talk to them, making us both unhappy. I already made many attempts to bring awareness to their behavior, the impact it was having on me and what I felt was needed to bring some joy back into our conversations, but that wasn’t working. So, I found the right moment to say, “I love you, but I’m sorry. I can’t continue with these negative conversations. If you are struggling and would like me to help you come up with some constructive solutions to your problems, I am here anytime for you, even late in the night. But if you just want to complain, you are going to have to find other people for that.”

Once again, a drastic approach; but in terms of honoring my boundaries and trusting the history with the person, it seemed like the most beneficial approach. I gave them options. Luckily it worked, and brought joy and creativity back into our time together. But this may not be the best approach for you.

So, as you can see, there are many ways to approach this. It all starts with you clarifying and setting your own boundaries, and then approaching the other with compassion and patience. With the current level of negativity and worry in our personal and public discourse, this might be good for all of us. It’s hard to see how much the intensity and uncertainty of our time is influencing our outlook on life and our disposition. It seems so much easier to take on a negative attitude, rather than to see the best in others and in current events.

Let’s keep each other hopeful!


Ask Joe" is dedicated to exploring the best ways to transform tensions and bridge divides. Our resident advice columnist and conflict resolution specialist, Joe Weston, is here to answer your questions in order to resolve tension, polarization, or conflict.

Learn more about Joe Weston and his work here. Make sure to check out Joe’s bestselling book Fierce Civility: Transforming our Global Culture from Polarization to Lasting Peace, published March 2023.

To Ask Joe, please submit questions to:

Read More

Donald Sutherland, Jane Fonda and others on stage

Donald Sutherland (left), Paul Mooney, and Jane Fonda performing in an anti-Vietnam War FTA (Free The Army) show in the Philippines in 1971.

Stuart Lutz/Gado/Getty Images

This young GI met Donald Sutherland in a bygone era. RIP to an original.

Page is an American journalist, syndicated columnist and senior member of the Chicago Tribune editorial board.

News of Donald Sutherland's death at age 88 took me back to a day in 1971 when he was protesting the Vietnam War onstage with Jane Fonda and I was one of about 1,000 off-duty soldiers in their audience.

I hoped, in the spirit of John Lennon's anthem, to give peace a chance.

Keep ReadingShow less
Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs on stage
Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs perform "Fast Car" at the Grammys.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Luke Combs, politics and healing our nation's divide

Nevins is co-publisher of The Fulcrum and co-founder and board chairman of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund.

It’s been a year and a half since I wrote about “The Great Divide,” Luke Combs' song written by Naomi Judd, Paul Overstreet and John Barlow Jarvis. I was moved by the tremendous response I received, and that article is still one of The Fulcrum’s most-read posts.

The lyrics are as powerful today as they were in November 2023:

Keep ReadingShow less
Taylor Swift singing on stage
John Shearer/TAS24/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

Taylor Swift: 'It's basically saying don't lose hope'

Daley-Harris is the author of “Reclaiming Our Democracy: Every Citizen’sGuide to Transformational Advocacy” and the founder of RESULTS and Civic Courage. This is part of a series focused on better understanding transformational advocacy: citizens awakening to their power.

In my last writing, I discussed how Taylor Swift’s first involvement in politics (during the 2018 midterm election in Tennessee) was prompted, in part, by her harrowing experience in a sexual assault trial. That year Swift endorsed Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s opponent in Tennessee’s U.S. Senate race, Rep. Jim Cooper (D). It wasn’t an easy decision.

“I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions,” she wrote in an Instagram post, “but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.”

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

Keep ReadingShow less
Young woman doing stand-up comedy

Laughter is the embodiment of depolarization.

FG Trade/Getty Images

What role does comedy play in pulling us together?

It’s no secret that pop culture in America has amazing healing and connecting powers. Throughout history, we’ve seen how artists, entertainers, athletes and creators of every kind invite us into a space of transcendence that leads to connectivity. We see that when we join people together their energy can be harnessed for good, and then amplified and scaled.

Certainly comedy fits in perfectly. Laughter is the embodiment of depolarization. Just consider that in order for something to evoke laughter, it has to have the capacity to both hold tension and release tension at the same time. And so we invite you to join Bridge Entertainment Labs tomorrow at 4 pm Eastern for “What’s Making Us Laugh? What Role Does Comedy Play in Pulling Us Together — or Driving Us Apart?”

Keep ReadingShow less