Removing negativity from our lives is a common theme. Whether we’re looking to lower stress levels, broaden our spiritual horizons, or simply live a happier, fuller life, getting rid of the negativity in our surroundings is essential. However, this is sometimes easier said than done. Negativity can come from many sources—our jobs, our living situations, our relationships. When the negative factors in our lives are people, and especially family members or longtime friends, it becomes even more difficult.

Negativity spawns more negativity. We see this in the way we discuss the issue: we look for techniques to “combat” negativity, or to reduce it, remove it, or get rid of it. These are all negative phrases that mirror the very negativity we’re attempting to deal with. A more fitting term, and technique, is to diffuse negativity. Physics teaches us that energy can be neither created nor destroyed—but it can change form. When we attempt to confront negativity, it’s like having a head-on collision; the force is multiplied. When we attempt instead to diffuse it, not only is its impact reduced, we may also initiate change in the person who is creating it in the first place.

How do we do this? With kindness.

Like a moving object that, once set in motion, will continue on its path until it meets resistance, so negativity has no effect until it meets resistance—whether that is our confronting it, playing along with it, or ignoring it. Negative people are seeking a reaction, and even avoidance is a reaction. If, when confronted with a negative person we listen, acknowledge that we have heard, but kindly and peacefully decline to engage, their negativity finds no barrier to bounce off of and thus travels on without either impacting us or rebounding on the person who was its source.