As human beings, we are affected by the feedback we receive from those around us. Whether good, bad or neutral, the words we hear and the tone in which they are seasoned, can have a powerful impact on how we feel about ourselves and how we see the world around us. From the time we first take notice of this double edge we call the tongue, we are keenly aware of its sting as well as its ability to uplift the somber soul.
Feeling the sting of a verbal attack
I recently received an email from one of my websites that was anything but positive in nature. I was basically told, by a total stranger that had just laid eyes on my site for the very first time, that I was a worthless piece of @#$%. This person seemed to go to great lengths to tare me down as quickly and effectively as possible. I had been having quite a tough week and this was just one more stone that had met its intended target.
I started to reply, trying to stay calm and not be a jerk right back, but I was having a hard time not getting defensive. So I got Liz to read the email and asked her opinion. The second she had finished reading the words of this viscous verbal assault, she looked at me and said, “Eric, why would you even give this person two seconds of your time? Just delete it and move on.” Realizing the foolishness of trying to defend myself to someone who had no intention of having a two way conversation, I deleted the email and tried my best to forget about it.
Later that day, while walking our dogs, Liz and I discussed the situation. She admitted that it was easy for her to tell me to forget about it, but that if it had been directed at her, it most certainly would have bothered her, but that paying attention to that kind of feedback will do nothing but bring you down. That absolutely NO GOOD could ever come from responding to the kind of hate that was in that email. I agreed and I moved on.
The effect of feedback
I don’t know about you, but when I have a couple of days that are filled with nothing but positive reinforcement and encouragement, I can’t help but feel light on my feet. I have more energy, get more done and tend to be a more positive person. But this can easily be brought to a screeching halt if the right words are used. Something like that email I described above can really take the wind out of my sales if I let it. I like for people to like me and I enjoy sharing positive experiences, not baring the brunt of someone else’s bad day. I want to help people when they are in need, not get stepped on when things don’t go their way.
There’s a saying, “Water off a duck’s back.” This usually pertains to a situation where an individual is criticized, but not affected by it. Somehow this person is able to let the negativity just roll right off their hypothetical back. This is rare and often times falsely mentioned. We are VERY effected by feedback from others and it is near impossible to completely disregard the different colored sound waves that find their way to our acute audible sensors. So let’s not kid ourselves. We generally DO care what others think about us and both positive AND negative feedback will usually have at least SOME effect on us. The question isn’t, “How can we ignore certain sound waves?” But instead, “How can we properly channel the different tones that take aim at us?” Just like certain martial arts may teach, it is better to go with the force of the attacking blow and use its energy to benefit yourself, than it is to try and fight it, or in many cases, try and ignore it.
How To Stop Letting People Make Or Break Your Life
So you’re like me in that your mindset, motivation and productivity are sometimes dictated by the feedback of the people around you. You’re sick of working hard to build up momentum, only to be taken out at the knees by a barrage of negativity.
Let’s stop handing over the keys to other people’s opinions and bring stability to our personal perspective of ourselves.
Tip #1: Determine the usefulness of the negative feedback.
As we all know, just because something is negative doesn’t mean it is wrong and/or can’t be turned into a positive. When we first receive feedback that threatens to bring us down we need to ask ourselves if there is anything useful we can take from it. Are we doing something wrong? Can we learn from this to improve our tomorrow? If there is merit to the comment and we can learn from it, we should determine the lesson, learn it and then go about our business. But if it turns out to be a difference of opinion or just negativity for the sake of negativity, we must see it for what it is (someone esle’s problem) and move on.
Tip #2: Beware of the dangerous Half-Truth
When others attempt to bring us down, they often do so by using the good old half-truth. They throw in JUST enough truth to get us second guessing ourselves and then naturally becoming defensive.
Think about it. When you have received negative feedback, was it the completely false statements that effected you most, or those that had a bit of truth sprinkled in with the lies? When there is some truth involved, we naturally pay attention and often try and pick through the statement to figure out what exactly needs to be done. We think, “Well, that one part is true and I KIND OF do that thing they pointed out, but the way they spin the idea is completely false.”
The problem with this is that we can find ourselves stuck in a pointless cycle of trying to reason out what may just be a bunch of false information that had no intention of constructively criticizing us. We spin our wheels attempting to effectively determine a defense, when no defense is needed or even advisable. This is often a complete waste of time.
So how do we deal with these deceivingly destructive accusations without lowering our standards and losing valuable time?
It’s quite simple, actually. We just need to look at the ENTIRE statement and not just the individual points. Let’s say you own a bakery and specialize in blueberry muffins. One day the owner of the bakery across the street comes in and says,”You sell your muffins for less than I do. (TRUTH) From what I can tell, you’ve found a way to get the same ingredients for less than I can get them (TRUTH) and have come up with a way to make your muffins in half the time (TRUTH). Way to go! You’ve just brought down the standards of the muffin making industry!” (FALSE)
OK, so this guy obviously had it in for you from the get go, but he DID lay down a bunch of truths. Up until the very end, he was describing your actions with great detail. But he then managed to spin those facts into one final false accusation. Now you’re thinking, “Is it possible that my actions are wrong in some way? Should I re-think the way I’m doing things?”
We need to realize that a statement is either true or false. Their may be some truths and some lies mixed in, but the entire statement is saying something specific, and it is the point that it’s trying to make that is either true or false. So if we were to look at this competitor’s statement as either true or false, we could clearly see it as false. But fall into the trap of picking it apart and we only confuse ourselves with conflicting information.
Another trick is to remove the false parts of the statement and then repeat what’s left, but in a positive tone. Let’s picture an appreciative customer who’s eating one of your delicious blueberry muffins and positively saying the exact statement, minus the last bit of lies. “You sell your muffins for less than the baker across the street. From what I can tell, you’ve found a way to get the same ingredients for less than he can get them and have come up with a way to make your muffins in half the time. Way to go!” Same statement, minus the lies, with a positive tone. COMPLETELY different statement! So remember that it’s often times not the words being said, but the intentions behind them that determine their tone. If changing the intentions changes the tone, then you’re most likely dealing with a mere opinion and not a fact of any kind.
Tip #3: Determine WHO you will listen to
As much as that email was hurtful with its malicious message, the author in no way fit the profile of an individual I would ever care to absorb opinion. It’s absolutely crucial that we know exactly what kind of person we care to mind and therefore what type of individual we will pay NO mind.
For myself, I will always at least hear out family and friends. This is, for the most part, a given. But even here we need to be cautious. Be sure this loved one has proper perspective to be paying you thought. Even a friend isn’t always going to give good advice.
But what about mere acquaintances or even total strangers? Some great advice has been given to me by strangers, so their lack of relationship to you should never keep you from learning from their insight. It then comes down to their values, their mindset when sharing the thought and what they have to gain by your reaction to the comment.
It was obvious to me that the author of this email was not acting from a healthy set of values. That this individual was not in a good mindset when they typed the hateful words and that the only thing they had to gain from my reaction was a sense of twisted satisfaction that they had knocked me down a notch. It was obvious to me that this person did NOT hold an opinion that I needed to be mindful of. And Once I realized this, it made it much easier to disregard them as someone having a bad day and frankly, not my concern.
Tip #4: Accept your imperfections
We may be fully aware that we are not perfect people, but it can still sting when that imperfection is pointed out by another. We try so hard to think things through and cover all the bases, but sometimes we drop the ball. When this occurs and you get some flack for it, lean to take it in stride. Quite often I find myself over focusing on a pointed out imperfection, trying to determine what went wrong and what I could have done differently. This in itself can be a good thing, a way to learn from our mistakes, but once we find ourselves feeling discouraged as a result, we need to step back and accept the fact that EVERYONE makes mistakes. The more comfortable you are with the fact that you’re going to trip up from time to time, the quicker you’ll bounce back when others make your imperfections known.
Tip #5: Take a breather
The worst thing you can do when dealing with negative feedback is let your pride get involved. You may want to lash out at someone or stoop down to their level. This is NEVER a good thing. You either continue a useless conversation or stoke the flames of a fire that only burns as long as two continue to tango.
Instead of reacting (and quite possibly over-reacting), sleep on it. Give yourself some time to get away from the situation and even forget about it for a bit. Let your subconscious chew on it for a while and see what it thinks. The following day you can re-visit the issue and determine your course of action with a much greater chance of choosing wisely. You may decide like I did that no response is necessary. Or that becoming defensive will serve no purpose. Whichever rout you choose, you’ll be doing so from a level perspective and not an in-the-moment reaction that might very well create more problems than you started out with.
Tip #6: Build momentum regardless of reaction
Just as much as we should not let negative feedback knock us down, we need to be cautious about how much we rely on the positive to push us forward. There’s nothing wrong with riding the waves of encouragement, but if this is the foundation we chose to build our future success, we will see our personal development crumble, time and time again. Our motivation should come from knowing we are moving in the the right direction and that we are unwilling to settle for less than awesome. We can enjoy the pats on the back when they come, but our identity needs to be formed from a foundation independent of those around us.
The bottom line is that as long as we are striving to better our lives as well as those around us, we should never fear the negativity that will inevitably come our way. Some will be true and some, half-true, but none should make us feel any less capable than before. Learn to properly filter this feedback and you will always maintain your motivation and proper piece of mind.