In my last post, I talked about being brave – about acting “as if” until we actually gain the confidence we want to feel. I also talked about how good-hearted people around you want you to succeed. But what about those who are not so good-hearted – those individuals who seem happy only when they are tearing you down? How do you maintain or develop confidence in that case?
Recently, one of my clients, a talented young engineer, shared how she is saddled with coworkers who seem to get a real kick out of undermining just about everything she does. As would be expected, the constant digs and criticism have led her to doubt herself and her abilities.
Besides helping her find a better work environment (which can take time, especially in a tight job market), I gave her some truths regarding criticism that I hope will encourage her in the meantime. I figured I would share these ideas here also, since most of the engineers I know tend to be perfectionists and criticism of any sort can really do a number on us, whether we show it outwardly or not. It can definitely keep us from being brave.
The fact is other people are our mirrors; they reflect what is in us. We can’t see something in other people unless there is some of that trait in us. We don’t see selfishness or impatience or messiness or whatever, unless we have some amount of these in us, even if it’s very minor. When we really get this concept, it slows down any tendency to level criticism on others. It really is true that when you’re pointing your finger at someone else, you have four other digits pointing back at you!
People who are negative and critical are unhappy themselves. There are things in their personal and/or professional lives that are not going well. Happy people aren’t looking to put other people down. Understanding this can allow us to step back from the negativity and maybe even feel a little compassion. Reacting compassionately to those who try to make us feel bad takes the sting out of their accusations.
Other peoples’ opinions of us are really nothing more than feedback. Feedback itself is neither good nor bad – it’s just something to look at. Anything that sounds like criticism is simply that person’s perspective, colored by his or her own issues (as mentioned above). They could be totally off-base, or their comments could be valid. That’s really for you to decide. Frankly, it’s good to get in the habit of soliciting feedback on a regular basis so you can do your own course-correcting as needed. The truth is, no one can make you feel bad without your permission. Don’t give negative, critical people that kind of power over you.
Whenever you doubt yourself, go back and review your list of personal strengths. (If you haven’t yet developed your list, stop whatever you’re doing and go make it!) Let it remind you of your value and all you bring to the table.
The best solution for dealing with chronically negative people is to distance yourself from them whenever possible. However, if the situation is such you can’t immediately get away, the above ideas might make it a little easier to handle their comments and stay confident.