Toxic people defy logic. Some are blissfully unaware of the negative impact that they have on those around them, and others seem to derive satisfaction from creating chaos and pushing other people’s buttons. Either way, they create unnecessary complexity, strife, and worst of all stress. You know those people: they cut in line, are rude to you in the office or at the restaurant, cut you off in traffic, talk loudly about obnoxious things, play loud music when you’re trying to concentrate, interrupt you, and so on.
For one reason or another, someone will find a reason to project their insecurities, their negativity, and their fears onto you and your life, and you’ll have to deal with it.
It’s easier to complain about the outside critics, but the biggest critic in your life usually lives between your own two ears. Working up the courage to move past your own vulnerability and uncertainty is often the greatest challenge you’ll face on the way to achieving your goals.
Apparently, the tendency to hold onto negative criticism is natural for most people. According to Roy Baumeister and researchers at Florida State University, we remember negative emotions much more strongly and in more vivid detail. In a research paper titled, “Bad Is Stronger than Good”, Baumeister summarizes academic studies that prove that we are more likely to remember negative criticism than praise. Baumeister found that even happy people tend to remember more negative events than positive ones. In fact, Baumeister and his team say that it when it comes to your brain, it takes about five positive events to make up for one negative event.
Many racing experts consider Mario Andretti to be the most successful and versatile racing driver of all-time. During an interview with SUCCESS magazine, Andretti was asked for his number one tip for success in race car driving. He said, “Don’t look at the wall. Your car goes where your eyes go.”
The same could be said for your life, your work, and dealing with critics. Criticism and negativity from other people is like a wall. And if you focus on it, then you’ll run right into it. You’ll get blocked by negative emotions, anger, and self-doubt. Your mind will go where your attention is focused. Criticism and negativity don’t prevent you from reaching the finish line, but they can certainly distract you from it.
However, if you focus on the road in front of you and on moving forward, then you can safely speed past the walls and barriers that are nearby. This is my preferred approach to criticism. When someone dishes out a negative comment, use that as a signal to recommit to your work and to refocus on the road ahead of you. Some people are determined to take things personally and tear down the work of others. Your life is too short to worry about pleasing those people.
Focus on the road, not the wall.
Stay calm. Understand very clearly that you cannot beat these kinds of people, they’re called “impossible” for a reason. In their minds, you are the source of all wrongdoing, and nothing you can say is going to make them consider your side of the story. Your opinion is of no consequence, because you are already guilty, no matter what.
Remember to detach, disassociate and defuse. When you’re in the middle of a conflict with an impossible person, use this strategy:
- Detach: Staying calm in the heat of the moment is paramount to your personal preservation. Spitting angry words, reacting with extreme emotions such as crying, will only stimulate them to do more of the difficult behavior.
- Disassociate: Remove yourself from the situation and treat it with indifference. Do not, under any circumstances, badmouth them to their face or to anyone else because then you are sinking down to their level. Redirect the situation or conversation to something positive by focusing on something, anything, positive. Whatever you do just be calm!
- Defuse: It can help to realize that the side of a conversation that contains the most truth will always win out, and it’s best to “name the game” that an impossible person is playing, usually by asking them or the group a question that starts “Why…” (Rephrasing their “impossible” position to illuminate the consequences). You will move the conversation to a higher level, and the group, or even just the impossible individual, in a one-on-one, will respond to this “higher truth,” although the individual will usually respond by (more) obfuscating.