Oct 03

How to Deal with People who Think You Suck

self-doubtYou’re plugging along, doing great, feeling good about all the changes you’re making to improve the environment and you’re really proud of all the money you’ve saved along the journey.  Then it happens – some jerk can’t hold his tongue any more and decides he needs to tell you just how stupid he thinks all this eco-crap you’re up to is.

You’re shocked, mortified even.  All this time you thought you were doing something great and then someone comes along to tell you exactly the opposite.  You’re wasting your time.  You can’t make a difference.  Why bother?  You’re not doing it right! No one will ever notice!

Ever run into this? This kind of criticism can really have a lasting effect on someone, especially when it comes from someone close to you, maybe even someone you really respected.

Two types of criticism

It’s not always over the top comments aimed at stopping you in your tracks, though.  Sometimes it’s a constant, low-level drone of negativity that sort of lingers in the background, secretly zapping your creative energy without you ever even realizing it. This is the worst and most dangerous kind of criticism.  Outlandish remarks can be easier to ignore because you can take comfort in the fact that hyperbole is usually overreaction.  It’s just unchecked anger that happens to be directed at you.

Sure, there’s a little truth to be found in any wild criticism, but it’s easily dismissed when it’s accompanied by exaggeration.  That never ending flow of menial critique, on the other hand, can seep deep into your psyche while your guard is down because there’s nothing to set off your alarms.  Then, one day, you find yourself completely defeated with no motivation left to continue and you wonder why.

Do not let this happen to you.

You’re better than that. You know that what you’re doing is awesome.  How do you know this?  It feels awesome. The better you get at something and the more you do it, the more attention you get.  With more attention comes more criticism.  That’s just how it is.  You can’t control how others react to you.  That said, you are now left with two things that you can focus on – the attention or the criticism.

Pinpoint your focus

Focus on the attention and you’ll likely notice that only a small portion of it is negative.  Let it inspire and propel you forward.  Take the good and run with it.

Focus on the criticism and cut your own throat, never realizing that your detractors are a vocal minority that represent but a tiny sliver of all the attention you’re actually getting.  It’s easy to slowly give in to the pressure and quit, leaving everyone out there that was excited about your progress disappointed.

So what’s the trick to dealing with the negative energy suck?  Unless you completely isolate yourself from the world, you can’t entirely avoid it.  You can pretend it’s not there, but that’s probably not very effective either.

For me, the best solution is assertiveness – recognize it, quickly address it, and then cut communication if the message is not received.  Basically, when someone tells me that me that my compost pile or my bike challenge is a waste of time, I usually respond with something like, “Thanks.  I appreciate your opinion, but my research and intuition tells me that what I’m doing does make a difference and it feels good, so I’m going to continue.  I’d like your support, but I don’t need it,” and then end the conversation at that if the negativity continues.

Two types of critics

Some people are skeptics and some are cynics and there is a huge difference that needs to be understood in order to keep your wits when you’re dealing with naysayers.  A skeptic questions something she’s not sure about.  It’s actually a healthy reaction that encourages dialogue and understanding.  A skeptic is interested and often wants to be convinced.

A cynic, on the other hand, is dead set in their belief that you’re wrong.  He cannot and does not want to be convinced otherwise and you shouldn’t try it.

I can’t think of a bigger waste of time than to try to change someone’s mind when they’re dead set against you.  There’s nothing wrong with healthy debate, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m wasting my time trying to convince someone to believe something they don’t want to.  That’s time that could be spent improving myself.

How to handle a cynic

Don’t spend all your energy trying to change people’s minds.  I know that sounds counterintuitive when it seems like the idea of the green movement is to get the whole world to change their habits, but if you focus your energy on the people that don’t believe, you’re going to wear yourself out.

Instead, I just try to do my own thing and seek out others that are already likely to enjoy and support my efforts. It’s a hell of a lot easier, more fun, and you might find that recruiting an army of believers makes it quite a bit easier to passively change those naysayers’ minds – 1,000 people doing the right thing is a lot more convincing than 1 person arguing about it.

What do you do when you’re confronted about your values? How do you prefer to handle people that drain your life energy?


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  1. jenn

    Love your blog! People can think what they like…but you are ultamitely all that matters! Sometimes other people need to dip into other peoples buckets….I think that it is the opposite….they don’t think you suck they just wish they had the motivation that you do. :)

  2. Michael Thomas

    That’s a good point, Jenn. A lot of criticism comes from people who are jealous of your success. I’ve noticed this particularly with people that want to constantly give you advice to fix something you’re doing wrong. It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback or a backseat driver. Unsolicited advice is almost never appreciated. That’s a lesson I’ve definitely learned the hard way.

  3. Beth @ Smart Family Tips

    I get this a lot and it’s frustrating. I wonder sometimes if people don’t feel a little guilty for not doing more (recycling, etc.) and that the guilt manifests itself by criticizing others.

    I’m not preachy about my green endeavors, so I’ve never understood why people feel the need to be critical of them. For the most part, the eco-friendly steps I am taking in my life do not impact the critics.

    Thanks for writing this post!

  4. Michael Thomas

    I’m sorry you seem to be getting so much negative attention, Beth. Consider, though, the point I made that most people aren’t negative, so it’s probably safe to assume that the silent majority of people who think what you’re up to is awesome is quite a lot larger than the group of people who seem so against you. Sounds like you could use some engagement from that first group. I hope you’re able to find it!

  5. Brenda Pike

    I actually got a very negative comment from my niece recently, which felt worse than from a complete stranger. But I called her on it and we ended up having a really good conversation about her preconceived notions about various environmental issues. I understand a little more about where she’s coming from, and she’s a little more willing to do some research in response to her gut reactions–all in all, it worked out great.

  6. Michael Thomas

    That’s great Brenda! Nothing like a little compromise to keep things moving in the right direction.

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