6 Tips for Dealing with Critical People

I recently celebrated my thirty-fifth birthday, so I’ve definitely heard some snarky comments from family and friends throughout my life … but people who are constantly critical of anything and everything can really drive me up a wall.

Obviously, hanging out with obnoxious jerks isn’t at the top of my to-do list and I don’t recommend adding it to yours either, but at some point or another you’re going to wind up dealing with a cynical  pessimist that you just can’t stand. Whether it’s one of your co-workers or your best friend’s new girlfriend, you’ll probably find yourself curling your toes up inside your shoes and gritting your teeth.

Why are Some People Overly Critical?

Some people dish out excessive criticism because they don’t have any self-confidence. They don’t like themselves very much, and for some odd reason insulting others make them feel better. Other people were criticized as children and see nothing wrong with it, and some people just have the mantra “honesty is the best policy” and prefer to “tell it like it is” … even if it’s wrong or hurtful.

We’re all human and we all have our moments—I know that I can get pretty critical when I’m in a bad mood or angry at someone—but there’s a big difference between occasional constructive criticism and downright nastiness. Its one thing to tell someone, “I think your shirt would look even better in blue,” but it’s an entirely different story if you decide to say, “Wow, that red shirt you’re wearing really accents all your pimples!”

Guidelines for Dealing with Critical People

Critical people can easily drag others down with them, so the next time you find yourself speaking with a “critic,” consider the following:
  1. Ignore criticisms that you know are false, and don’t take them personally. This is easier said than done, but I’ve found if I smile and take a deep breath I can mentally roll my eyes and try my best to get away.
  2. Listen to the person without arguing. People who are overly critical often make comments just to get a reaction. If you refuse to take the bait and get angry, they may move on to someone else.
  3. Paraphrase what the person said and repeat it back to them. Some people might not realize that what they just said out loud was so crazy, and I’ve actually received an apology after trying this tactic.
  4. Offer your opinions. If someone wants to let you know what they think, give it right back to them and offer your own opinion on the topic.
  5. Don’t become defensive. You didn’t do anything wrong, and there’s no need to defend yourself to someone who enjoys spewing out criticism.
  6. Avoid that person in the future. This might seem next to impossible if the critical person sits next to you at work or they’re your relative, but if you constantly make excuses about being busy or simply walk away from them, eventually they’ll leave you alone.
Although I wrote this post about coping with critical people face-to-face, most of us can also find ourselves in similar situations on the internet—you may have a blog reader that always wants to argue with you or maybe an annoying spammer that constantly leaves nasty comments on your blog.

So, my question to all of you:  how do you deal with people that are extremely critical, whether it’s in person or online? Feel free to offer suggestions because I’d love to know!
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12 thoughts on “6 Tips for Dealing with Critical People”

  1. Keeping away from the cynics is great, so long as you’re not married to them. Otherwise, I find refusing to fuel it is best. Like you say, just keeping calm, level and refusing to argue can really help calm stuff down. Great advice Steve. Thank you 🙂

  2. Hi Scott,

    Nice tips here. What I usually do is I realize that we are all different, so when I encounter some one that criticizes me or does not like what I do, I just accept it as is. We can’t make everyone agree with us or like us. Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks Dia,

      There was a phrase I always liked about how to accept any criticism.

      Like water off a ducks ass.

      somehow I always found that amusing and a great way to treat it

  3. This is a good list Scott. I like the broken record technique. For example, if someone leaves criticism of your website all the time, you can reply with something like, “I appreciate your input, but I don’t think that will work for my blog.” The exact words don’t matter so much as the neutral tone. The next time they give you that criticism, reply with the exact phrase. It works even better in person if you say it multiple times in the same conversation. It keeps you from getting emotionally involved in the criticism, and gives the other person no conversational levers.

  4. Jennifer,

    The “broken record technique” I like that one. Yeah most angry and critical people are really looking for something to fuel their fire. If you do not give it to them they will move on.

    Thanks for stopping by,


  5. I have employed the repetition technique numerous times with one of my more “difficult” friends. He would make some of the most outrageous accusations and criticisms. When I started repeating his words back to him . . . followed by silence, he not only backed down, but he stopped the behavior altogether.

    • Angela,

      It is funny how well that can work, huh.

      Often I don’t think people really run through and edit in their heads before blurting out their criticism. If they did they might realize how bad some of it sounded.

      Thanks for sharing and stopping by Angela!


  6. Great comprehensive list, Steve!

    I personally do #’s 1 and 5 quite often myself. I find that throwing too much negative energy around is just a waste time and effort, so I just avoid it as much as I can. You can’t control the environment (eg: other people) most of the time, but you’re always in control of yourself.

    • You are right, people will say what they will. You may get them to backpedal if they realize how they sound, but that likely may not always be worth it.

      You nailed it when you said all you can REALLY do is control yourself and your reaction to it.

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