Constructive criticism is fine, healthy even! You know the type: they tell you there’s a typo in your presentation, but still get the message you were trying to communicate. On the other hand, some people are so relentlessly negative that they can suck the joy out of life. No matter what happy news you might have, they are guaranteed to find the cloud to fit your silver lining.
Just got a promotion? They’ll tell you how burned out you will be.
Just had a baby? They’ll tell you about the sleepless nights, endless worry, and the cost of college.
There is no escaping critical people, but there are ways of handling them when you have to deal with them.
Here are 6 strategies you can use to deal with hypercritical people.
It’s a safe bet that it's not you, it's them. Some people hug their negativity around them like a security blanket, and that colors their view of the world. They criticize everything because that suits them. Watch how they treat other people. It’s guaranteed they criticize everybody, not just you.
I’ve written about this before, but the human brain is wired for negativity because it helped keep us alive in our evolution. If I didn’t know whether this plant was poisonous, it was safer for me to assume it was and not eat it. Same goes with people. If I didn’t know the person approaching me, it kept me alive to assume he was a threat and behave accordingly.
Since this negativity bias is hard-wired into our brain, we have to consciously work to overcome it in our modern society.
Some people are further along that journey than others. Recognizing that and not taking their criticism so personally can get you through the conversation and on to happier thoughts.
Is the person obscuring the message? Maybe your critical colleague or friend is tactless, or bad at expressing themselves rather than being mean. Try to see past the messenger to understand what is really being said. Otherwise, you might miss out on some valuable advice.
There actually is a personality type that naturally appreciates competence in people and feels like they are helping people by pointing out flaws. If they don’t have self-awareness around this trait, then the message can come across quite critical.
What I’ve found, though, is that this type of person also wants to be seen as very competent, so they actually don’t take criticism very well themselves! So, if your strategy is to “give them a taste of their own medicine”, beware!
You can decide to take critical feedback on its own merit: as a source of honest feedback. At least with hypercritical people what you see is what you get! If you can see past the blunt delivery, you may be able to find a kernel of truth that can improve the way you do things.
This can be difficult and I certainly hear a lot of “it isn’t what he said, it’s how he said it!”
Sometimes, for our own mental health, it needs to be taken as only what he said.
Criticism never feels good. Try to read your own discomfort as another source of information about what is being said. Does the negative feedback trigger a recognition deep within you? Maybe it subconsciously reminds you of a past event, but maybe there’s a ring of truth in the criticism. Sit with your discomfort and see what it’s telling you.
If you thought the previous one was uncomfortable, this one can make you squirm! Sit with discomfort?!? No way!
Sometimes, though, someone points out something that we already know about ourselves but thought we were hiding it so well. Or we thought we overcame that little idiosyncrasy ages ago.
That’s what I mean by sit with the discomfort; what’s really going on inside you when that criticism came zinging your way?
If you can’t stand being criticized, then it’s up to you not to get into situations with people who are likely to criticize you. Don’t ask for advice or expose yourself to their negativity. They’re not likely to change, so you need to take control and avoid such conversations. Don’t share good news if you know they’ll throw cold water on it; don’t seek their praise if you know you won’t get it.
It took me a while to realize this about one of my grandmothers. There was probably no winning her approval unless I went to a convent! All the good news shared was met with an “Oh.” All the bad news (aka drama) was met with eagerness. To be fair, she had 9 children and 21 grandchildren, so there was always SOME drama to share! Maybe that was all she knew how to process!
You have a choice about how to deal with negative people. You can decide not to engage with their negativity, you can ignore them, or you can just avoid them altogether. If you must have contact with a negative person at work, for example, be helpful but don’t engage with them. Otherwise, it's up to you whether you want to have any contact with such negativity, or not.
Of course, you can’t avoid all negative people or criticism all the time, but you can learn to deal with them with grace and a sense of humor. If there’s a lesson to be learned, learn it and move on. They don’t have to be a big part of your life.
Some people aren’t worth the real estate in your head!
Leaving you with this from the lighter side: I used to be a people-person, but people ruined that for me.