How to Deal with Nonsense Criticism

Dr. David Lieberman,

When someone is rude to us our first reaction is to protect our ego. We get upset and respond with something like, “How dare you talk to me like that!” “Don’t you yell at me!” We make this angry person our problem.

Why let someone else dictate how you feel? Getting angry gives another person control over your emotional state. That’s a lot of power for one person to possess, especially someone who is rude to you.

If you resist your initial inclination to get defensive, you may be surprised at what happens. Instead of, “Why are you treating me like this?” try saying, “You seem to be having a rough day.” Rather than, “I didn’t do anything. Don’t talk to me like that!” say, “This seems to have upset you.” Don’t take possession of his problem. It’s his problem, not yours.

The psychological dynamics change dramatically as soon as you use the word “I” or “me.” Then it becomes something between you and him. By using the word “you,” you keep the ball in his court and the problem remains his sole property.

It has nothing to do with you as long as you don’t try to take part ownership of it.

You will find that by not responding defensively you won’t become as upset by the exchange. It has nothing to do with you as long as you don’t try to take part ownership of it.

Sometimes criticism comes in the form of nicely packaged advice. In this instance thank the person for offering his insight, and then later you can decide whether or not there is any credence to what he said. Sometimes it can be hard to separate out the message from the messenger, but when you do, you may find some good advice.

Thank the person regardless of how unproductive or self-serving the remark is. Recognize that if the advice is more of a put-down than it is constructive, he is coming from a place of pain and he needs to do this in order to feel good about himself. Have compassion and empathy for him and rise above it. Do not get defensive. Do not engage him. Simply say “Thank you, I will give that some thought,” sincerely and directly.

If you want, you can then ask a question regarding how or why he himself is so capable, without being sarcastic!

Comment: “You know, Aaron, you were way off your game in that meeting.”
Response: “Really? I’ll have to review that later. You’re so great for looking out for me. How would you have handled it?”

Comment: “I thought you were trying to lose weight. Do you think you should be eating that?”
Response: “Oh, you’re so sweet for remembering that I’m dieting. Thank you. You seem like you have great willpower. I’d love for you to tell me your secret.”

This person is being disrespectful to you because he craves respect himself. By thanking him and asking him for his input, you feed his psyche and end the “attack.”

Of course, not all criticism comes from people in pain. And just because it’s not done in a caring way does not mean that this person doesn’t still care about you. He may not be able to critique you effectively and kindly, even though he does really care.

Alas, we should always keep in mind the optimum motivation for holding our tongue. The Gemara (Gittin 56a) reveals that the strength of Hashem is manifest through His non-reaction to the insults and blasphemies of the wicked. Elsewhere, the Midrash states that one who is silent in the face of insults is called pious, and a partner with Hashem (God). What greater motivation do we really need?

So the next time someone fires an insult or criticism your way, remember you don’t lose by saying nothing in response.

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