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4 Tips for Dealing with Critical or Negative People

You just received a long-awaited promotion. Excited about the news, you begin to share with a group of friends.

As you’re basking in the moment, sharing all of the perks and new opportunities, you are interrupted by “Debbie Downer.” She quickly begins sharing how she has heard the position is not all it’s cracked up to be, how you may end up working long hours… And she continues, even right down to how they don’t have the same quality of paper in that department.

Pretty soon your excitement has exited stage left and you want that moment back.

So what are some ways you can effectively deal with critical or negative people?

Critical people can be particularly hard to deal with. They have the ability to change the moods of others in an instant, finding one problem or issue after another. More often than not, if we know this is an individual’s personality, we try to avoid them, but this isn’t always possible. So how do we deal with the “Debbie (or David) Downers” in our path?

  1. Remember, more often than not, it’s about them and not about you. Generally critical people are critical of everything and everyone. You are not unique, so don’t make it personal. If they are critical of your promotion or your new shirt, they are likely critical of your co-workers’ shoes, the water cooler, and their limited choices of screensavers.
  2. You can always choose to ignore them.Most critical people are not critical with malicious intent. This is just their way of life. However, there are those critical people who like to get a reaction and may intend to cause some negative feelings. In this case the best thing you can do is ignore them. The more you respond, the more likely they will continue to be negative – and so the cycle will continue. You can’t stop critical people from talking, but you have the power to shorten the conversation.
  3. Give them the opposite.I once knew a lady who was critical of everything I did because she knew it would always get under my skin. One day I decided that for every critical thing she would say, I would say something nice. She would say “I hope you didn’t think that shirt was cute when you bought it,” and I would reply, “I love your shoes.” She was stunned — so much so that she repeated her critical statement. When she realized her critical statements no longer bothered me, she eventually stopped.
  4. Give them honest feedback.When we know that a person has a reputation for being critical, we have a tendency to ignore or avoid them. It’s only natural: who wants to hear their critical statements all day? However, it is important to consider if they are aware of how negative they are and whether they understand their intent. Critical people need love too! It may be helpful to pull them aside and ask if they are aware of the negative energy they bring into a room. Talk with them specifically about how their negativity makes you feel and how it affects you. They may be completely unaware of their actions and willing to change their behavior.

It’s important to remember that we are ultimately responsible for the way we feel. No one can “make” us feel anything. We allow people to bring us down, take our energy, or steal or joyous moments. I once had a counselor tell me that no one could drive my car unless I gave them my keys and he was right. Whether we choose to embrace or ignore the critical people in our lives, how they affect us is ultimately in our hands.

4 Tips for Dealing with Critical or Negative People

Donna M. White, LPCI, CACP

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APA Reference
White, D. (2018). 4 Tips for Dealing with Critical or Negative People. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 15 Jul 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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