6 Healthy Ways to Handle Critical People

Dr. John Townsend

June 18, 2018

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “everyone is a critic.” This is our way of saying we all have opinions on one subject or another. In general, most people can have disagreements without escalation. When this happens, everyone comes into the disagreement with a healthy approach, and most leave the conversation better for having a good, healthy interaction.

But, sometimes we have to disagree with difficult people. You have probably had to deal with a difficult person in your life. Whether in-person on their computer or mobile device, difficult people are out there. (They are everywhere, actually!)

Whether we like it or not, we’ll have to deal with them with the same grace and truth we apply to all realms of our lives.

Change Your Perspective

Now, I’m going to give you some insight into how to work with critical people for a healthier outcome.

The core issue of a critical person is that when they face a problem, they negate the good. That’s no good. That’s not the healthy way to deal with problems!

Everybody has some level of critical analysis when it comes to problem-solving. That’s perfectly fine. You have to say, “Well, I screwed up there, or we have a cultural problem here, or we have an organization problem here, or whatever.”

It’s not that they see bad things per se. Instead, they negate the good. Even though life’s tough, it should be more positive than negative. Pretty simple right? So, critical people tend to be way out of balance.

We must ask ourselves where this comes from. You have to understand where critical people come from just to see they’re not making this up.

So how does one become a critical person? Let’s look at that next. Where does the problem start?

  • Family of origin: Sometimes, they have a family of origin issues where they were raised around a lot of criticism and that became the norm.
  • Environment: Some people are just around negative people all their lives and assume that’s just a normal way to communicate.
  • The Receiving End: Sometimes a person is the recipient of a lot of criticism.
  • Disappointment: A lot of times, at a deep level, critical people have been disappointed so much that it’s a way to avoid taking a risk and saying this is what I want.

Get Control Over It

You’ve probably got a critical person in your life; we all have that one person (or possibly more) who can’t seem to see the good in any situation. Here are a few simple truths that hopefully help you gain some control over the situation.

  1. Forget about pleasing them: I’m sorry to say it, but you can’t please them! They’re unpleasable because they’re critical! They move the goalpost so that the goal is unattainable. Don’t try to please them, you will just be spinning your wheels.
  2. Don’t get involved in power struggles: Do not escalate the disagreement to show them that you’re “more alpha.” Male alpha or female alpha, don’t show them that you’re an alpha because they can escalate till the cows come home. No good. Waste of time.

I’ve covered what not to do above. Now, let’s get into a few healthy ways to handle critical people.

6 Healthy Ways to Handle Critical People

  • Hear them: Just say, “Help me understand.” The road to solving problems comes when people feel heard.
  • Understand they didn’t come in a vacuum: This disagreement did not occur in a vacuum, they got to this critical point from somewhere, so it gives you a sense of patience and empathy for them.
  • Let them know how you feel: That awareness will help the lights come on. They will often go, “Well, tell me when I do that again.”
  • Ask them what they want: Ask them to say what they desire. Make them be specific! Because remember, they’re probably dealing with defending against disappointment and so they are more identified by what they do not want than what they do want.
  • Affirm the baby steps: It’s hard for a critical person to be balanced and look at the good because the good never meant anything good for them. So when they finally say, “Well, I just want to tell the team good job. That’s all I got to say.” That’s when, you know, pop the cork, have a big party, thank you. We need to know that and don’t let them say, “But you need to do these other things.” No, that’s not okay. Affirm the baby steps, it’s hard work for them. Write down a couple of vulnerabilities, it’ll really give you power and control over that.
  • Request more positives: Let them know that they can keep the negatives and that they need to add to the positives. You are trying to redo the way their brain works.  Then, you can really repair the relationship and make them happier and a better place to work with and be a friend to them.

It will be difficult, especially at first, but I promise you that this kind of stuff works. Just like you, critical people have goals, desires, and wants. You can be an advocate for the person and share warmth for a healthy outcome.

When working with a critical person, you might need help with the conversation. TownsendNOW can give you the Christian-based guidance you’re seeking.



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