I can be critical of others. That’s been my strategy for staying safe. With clients and strangers, I’m usually positive and encouraging. With close friends and family, I can be negative. I don’t want to get hurt again.
My negativity pushes people away keeping them at a safe distance. It’s an unhealthy strategy, but it’s served a purpose. It’s also made me lonely. Here are 5 relationship strategies helping me break this horrible habit.
1. Count the Consequences
Count the costs of being a critical person long term. How will this impact my relationships with family and friends? Play it forward 5 or 10 years and judgemental people end up isolated, lonely, and avoided. It’s tough to be friends with this kind of person. Who wants to get too close to someone who consistently points out faults?
2. Focus on Gratitude
I can’t be critical of someone and grateful for them at the same time, just like I can’t be happy and depressed simultaneously. These emotional states are mutually exclusive. The gratitude I feel towards others forces out my negativity. Answer these questions about someone you are tempted to criticize.
- What traits do I appreciate about this person?
- What are their unique skills and talents?
- How is my life better because this person is in it?
- What positive memories do I have with them?
“Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”
– Dale Carnegie
3. Question Your Motives
It’s hard to know the difference between criticism and feedback. The motive behind criticism is self protection, while the motive behind constructive feedback is to genuinely help someone. If my motive is to one up and push people away, then don’t say it.
Side Note: Relationship expert John Gottman recommends a ratio of at least 5 positive interactions to every negative. People will receive what you say positively when the relationship has substantially more positive interactions to negative. I once had a very encouraging boss named Gordon Rogers. Every day he pointed out something I was doing right. He could tell me anything and I would receive it.
4. Get Thick Skin
Stop taking everything personally. What people say often reveals more about them than it does about you. You grow when you’re not defensive. I try and do something every day where I could get rejected to remind myself that my value doesn’t come from other people’s opinions of me. It doesn’t matter what people think of me when I like myself.
“You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.” – John Wooden
5. Figure Yourself Out
There are reasons why you’re critical and not encouraging. There are reasons why you’re afraid of being hurt by others, and you need to figure it out. Talk to a therapist or life coach. Deal with your past. You were made for connection and your life will suck without it.
Join me as I struggle to break out of the self protective negative cycle. May we all discover the potential, opportunity, and joy found only in relationships with others.
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