Critics and Haters: How to Deal with People Who Unfairly Judge You


Critics and Haters

The simplest way to be criticized is this: be yourself. As Aristotle once said, “to avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”

No matter what path your life takes, you’re bound to come across someone who dislikes your decision and openly expresses how unhappy they feel about it.

Just recently, my wife and I took some criticism over a decision we made.

At the start of the year, we took a trip to Turkey. We walked around Istanbul, saw Ephesus and stopped over at Pamukkale (absolutely gorgeous, by the way). The whole trip was beautiful and unforgettable.

It seems so uncontroversial, expect for one aspect – my wife was six months pregnant.

To be clear, we did our due diligence. We perused forums to read about experiences other pregnant women had in Turkey. Before we left, we researched hospitals to see what was available (they’re good there).

In addition, our doctor gave us the OK to go and we even got a clean bill of health two days before we left. And to top it all, we bought great travel insurance, just in case.

However, we were harshly judged for our actions. Many people lashed out at us and criticized our “reckless behavior”.

To be fair, our critics were coming from a source of love and concern, but it was still difficult to not take personally.

How to Take Criticism like a Pro

The trouble with criticism is in how our brains process it, putting a lot more focus and attention on negativity. According to a study, one negative comment carries the same weight in our minds as five positive ones.

This was true of our experience. Looking back before our trip, I can see that most people were either positive or neutral on the subject. There was just a select few vocal critics to make us feel bad about what we were doing.

And feelings are the real problem with criticism. It’s not that you’re being criticized or judged unfairly, it’s that those criticisms and judgements make you feel bad as a result.

According to the book User’s Manual for the Brain Volume I:

“The problems we often have in handling criticism constructively lie in dealing with our feelings about being criticized. If we could handle those immediate negative emotions, we could respond constructively to the criticism.”

Then the book gives a great technique to handle the negative emotions that come along with being criticized. They modeled this technique by studying people who handle criticism effectively.

“See yourself at some distance….You are watching yourself receiving criticism. Thus you see yourself “out there,” any negative feelings you had during that time will [also] seem “out there,” and you can feel curious about those feelings.”

In effect, you replay the criticism in your mind as if you’re looking at it from a third person perspective. You watch yourself receiving the criticism as if you’re another person entirely. This helps you disassociate from the critical comments so you can get past the hurt feelings.

This has been backed up in other research studies too. According to a study reported in Psychology Today:

“Participants reported feeling significantly less emotional pain when they envisioned the memory using a third-person perspective than when using a first-person perspective. Further, utilizing a psychologically distant vantage point also allowed them to reconstruct their understanding of their experiences and reach new insights and feelings of closure.”

I don’t know why exactly it works, but it does. After I replayed the criticism for our trip to Turkey using a third-person point of view, I felt a lot better about it. It allowed me to move away from the negative criticisms and get them out of my head.

Benjamin Franklin on Turning Critics into Friends

So that’s how you handle criticism. But what should you do about the critics and the haters themselves?

One big lesson I learned about haters comes from Benjamin Franklin.

As Benjamin Franklin went from success to success, he naturally gained a few enemies along the way. When he started running for the position of clerk in a club, they started bashing him. One person in particular critiqued him at every opportunity.

Rather than confront the person directly, Franklin decided to take a different tactic. He sent a letter to the hater asking to borrow a rare and curious book from his library.

Renowned as a discerning book collector and founder of a library, Franklin had a respectable reputation in the literary community. The man was so flattered that he immediately sent the book. A week later, Franklin sent it back with a thank you note.

The next time they met, the hater had changed his attitude completely. Eventually they developed a friendship which lasted all the way to his death.

How did this happen?

The thing that Franklin did right was that he directed his efforts at changing the person’s behavior, not his attitude.

Most people think attitude determines behavior, but it’s actually the other way around. Our behavior determines attitude.

When Franklin asked his biggest critic to lend him a valuable book, he was getting the person to do something nice for him. Since people generally only do favors for those they like, his attitude adjusted to fit the behavior.

In fact, the more nice things someone does for you, the nicer they’ll become. It may sound counter-intuitive, but if you get someone to do something nice for you, they’ll rationalize in their head that they must like you and their attitude will change as a result.

Clashing with haters about their attitude head-on will probably just bring on more hate. However, if you change their behavior, you’ll find that the person who was once a critic is now a friend.

To quote Franklin: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.”
photo credit: Brandon Warren

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  1. Thomas Payne says:

    So basically you want to mooch off of people to get them to like you? This does seem counterintuitive.

    • It doesn’t really.
      Because the amount of love you have for someone is proportional to how much you give to him.
      It’s easy to see if you’re married. When you stop being egoistic and you switch from receiving to giving to your spouse, you love her more.

      • I agree with your point about marriage. When you give more to your spouse, you love them more. That’s why my wife and I do nice little things for each other – it brings us closer together.

    • I never said anything about mooching. I wrote about how to get people to like you. It’s been well-documented that when someone does a favor for you, they like you more. You don’t have to mooch off them. A favor can be anything. And you don’t have to do it excessively.

  2. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for sharing your story and your technique to handle Critics. It looks like it might work for me. Although I usually deal with critics, by seeing them in a different light.

    I understand that their criticism is not triggered by me, but by their own problems, weaknesses and struggles.
    This allows me to stay calm and at the same time consider whether I can take something constructive from their criticism.

    You blew my mind with Benjamin Franklin’s “Turning Critics into Friends” technique.
    It never occurred to me to try the other way around – changing behavior to change the attitude.
    I do know that changing your own behavior and adopting small habits, can help change your attitude. But I never thought applying this to the critics themselves.

    As always – great post!

    • I always try to listen to people’s criticism to see if there’s something valid too. In fact, shortly after I wrote this, I was criticized on a previous post and, after reading it, I realized the person was correct. I wrote back saying that they made a good point.

      Constructive criticism is a good thing because at least you can learn from it. It still might be hard to take, but there’s an opportunity to improve yourself. It’s a different thing when the criticism is unfair, that’s harder to take and there’s little to grow from.

  3. I’ve found many times, like you, that the people who criticize us are most often intending to be helpful. It’s people who think you’re a little too obsessed with your dream. Or maybe they don’t realize the thought that you’ve put into something that’s risky. Keeping in mind their good intentions is something I’ve found to be helpful.

    • I’ve been criticized by people who really do care and are looking out for me and by those who don’t know me at all – online on this blog for instance. In the first case it helps to realize that they’re trying to be helpful. In the second, it helps to understand that they don’t know you at all.

  4. Great blog – plan to retweet. I agree that criticism is often triggered by the other person’s issues and I try to remember that when someone is on a tangent – and I sort of think of a cartoon image, which isn’t always good because, too often, I want to laugh.
    I will try Benjamin Franklin’s “Turning Critics into Friends” technique – changing behavior to change the attitude, what a cool concept!
    Thanks for sharing.

    • I’ve learned a lot from that concept. Confronting critics head on about their attitude usually just solidifies their viewpoint. It’s much better to take an indirect route.

  5. For me, the criticism that hurts the most the is the kind that is completely ungrounded. It couldn’t possibly be true. In theory, that should be the easiest kind the shake off, but the unfairness of it sticks with me.

    • That’s how I feel about it too. Unfair criticism feels wrong because you feel like it shouldn’t be there at all. You shouldn’t have to deal with it, but you’re forced to – that’s what makes it so hard.

  6. Great tips, Steven. Trying to disassociate ourselves from the situation allows for us to be more practical and rational about the criticism. I try to evaluate criticism to see if there’s something I can learn from it as well. People sometimes have valid points – they just don’t know how to express it. So reflecting on their sentiments and trying to draw out the valuable advice and leave behind the hurtful way in which they deliver it has been something I’ve found helpful. LIke anything, I assume dealing with haters takes constant practice :)

    • Practice does help. I can honestly say that having this blog has given me plenty of practice simply because criticism can come out of nowhere and on any post I’ve written. When you put up with it on and on like that, you get used to it and develop a thick skin.

  7. I am inspired by your blog.

  8. There are a couple of things with haters:

    1. If they are being reasonable, be as curious about their experience as possible. Understand it from their perspective and hopefully learn something with an open mind. Also, be hesitant to try to have their experience be similar to mine.

    2. Everyone wants to be loved and accepted. Haters are doing the best that they can with what they have been given (lot in life, psychology, genetics, parents etc)

  9. Steve, you have a gift for finding such gems.
    However, it’s a problem with online haters- they don’t care enough to make you a favor.
    When a guy criticized my book in review, I aksed him for a few instances of mistakes he supposedly noticed. NI got no answer.

  10. David Sanders says:

    The ice between common care is missing in today society. When a pattern is being sort out and blow out of exaggeration we as a people need to ask our self what’s manually bothering us. Quick to put handcuffs on something that really don’t belong in there control. Taking advantage is a issue i’m dealing with whenever i leave to comfort place and conduct with other grown adults. Kindness is a thin line the play with when it’s a bargain chip.

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