How to Effectively Manage “Put Downs” and Criticism

(published in Bonjour France Magazine Nov 17)

Dealing with put downs, insults, and criticism can be a challenging task. Sometimes we are able to shrug it off and move on, other times however,  things can stay with us for much longer.

Just like everyone else, I have been no stranger to being on the receiving end of some negative comments from time to time, and I won’t lie and say that some of them haven’t been harder to get over (and some still get my blood boiling when I think of them). We can’t skip through life without hearing any negative feedback. On the contrary, being challenged on who we are and what we do, can often be a great exercise of self reflection  and personal development. Nevertheless, what we can do, is find ways for us to cope with put downs:

The people who put you down 

People who spend the majority of their time putting down others, are often very insecure in their own lives. They either feel the need to give the impression they are in control or to cover up their own insecurities.

These may sound like excuses to justify someone’s bad behaviour, but by better understanding the kind of person we are dealing with, allows us to gain a clearer perspective when responding to them.

The different forms of put-downs 

Put downs can come in many forms and happen far more often than we realise. Some of them may be slips of the tongue or a misplaced joke, and some of them are put out there with the intend to harm.

“It’s just a joke” Put Downs

People might try out a negative comment or strike, and when we react defensively, hide it behind a joke. Again a useful tactic allowing them to say what they wanted to say, but deflecting off themselves by depicting you as the unreasonable one who can’t take a joke…

“I’m just being honest” Put Downs

The new-found praise for people who ‘tell it like it is’, has taken a slight turn these days for the negative (eg: Trump) giving some people the false illusion that this means they can say whatever lies on their mind. As much as being genuine and honest is an admirable trait, we still need to think before we speak and look at the possible consequences our words may have on others. Just because we think something, doesn’t always mean it needs to heard.

Direct and hurtful Put Downs

These are self explanatory. Put downs like these are comment with the sole purpose of upsetting others. Examples include: “You’ll never amount to anything”, “nobody would love you like that”, guilt tripping etc

Put Downs in Advertising

I think it’s safe to say that most of us who watch commercial TV, open a magazine or walk around stores; have been made to feel like they are too fat/skinny, not fit enough, not lazy enough, our houses/laundry isn’t clean enough and heck… pretty much every time I open my Facebook feed there is some household product or food that is giving me cancer unless I follow these 5 steps..

Advertising is designed to make us want more, make what we have better, and buy things we might not need..

Ways to Respond 

George Carlin quoted “Don’t argue with idiots, they’ll drag you down to their level, and beat you with experience”.  By biting back with an equally hurtful or negative put down, you’re only sinking to their level, which is exactly the outcome they are looking for. Showing that a comment upset you, to a point where retaliation seems like the only option, is exactly what they want. They dig deep for a reaction, and they get one.

Ofcourse that doesn’t mean we need to play the eternal doormat and take the negativity on the chin, but there are other ways we could proactively or effectively respond that might decrease or (if we’re really lucky) eliminate) the put downs.

1. Let it go

That’s right, play it like Elza and channel Disney’s ‘Frozen’ (I have a 4 year old :/)  and try to just “let it goo-oo”. Sometimes things are best worth letting go merely for the fact that they are very heavy. Someone’s comment might deeply hurt you, but will it still be relevant in a year’s time? Is there even truth behind the put-down that could rear it’s ugly head again? No? Then try to walk away from it, you’ll be a better person for it. And as mentioned earlier, the lack of reaction from your part will only show them their negative feedback has no impact on you.

2. Thank them

A very simple ‘thank you for your opinion’ can be a very curt and confident way to show them that their comments were heard, without giving them any indication of how the comments were received. Rather than the expected angry or defensive come-back, they are greeted with a firm ‘thanks’ essentially ending the conversation.

3. Laugh it off

When someone tries to get a rise out of you, laughing could possibly well be the best medicine.

Laughing along with it might feel like you are enabling the behaviour, but reacting strongly to it might motivate them even more to ‘get under your skin’.

It’s not always the solution, sometimes their ‘jokes’ really do hurt your feelings as perhaps some truth could lie beneath them, but when you can laugh it off, it will only help strengthen your own insecurity on the matter as well.

4. Call them out on it and talk

Sometimes, when all else fails, we might actually need to have ‘the talk’. If this person is someone we are required to deal with on a regular basis (colleague, friend, family, etc) the build-up of negative comments could lead to an angry outburst that in the end causes more damage than the initial comments.

You can confront someone without being aggressive or stoop to their level.  Simply and calmly state that you do not appreciate these kind of comments and await their response. In a lot of cases people might not even be aware they are doing it nor realise how significant the impact of their words can be.

If the person retaliates or does not take some form of responsibility for their actions, then at least you know you tried and you can find ways to eliminate them out of your life (no… not kill… just walk away from the connection) or if this is not an option to minimize the exposure to their negativity and to you.

Things to consider 

Of course, not everyone is out to get you and often someone’s negative comment may be perceived far stronger than it’s initial intent. It’s important we ask ourselves the question if that person really is trying to put us down or if we are somehow interpreting it as one. If we had a negative experience with someone in the past, perhaps we might be a bit more sensitive to what they say in the future.

We also need to consider age, culture and background when hearing others give us negative feedback… When living in Hong Kong, pretty much every older Asian woman would have a negative comment about how I dressed my baby, carried her or what I fed her. It took me a while to accept that this is just a cultural thing and it was not worth jumping on every titbit that was thrown my way. I ended up smiling and just walking away or in some cases I ‘thanked them for their opinion’ and left it at that. (of course I was still frustrated, but not enough to start a battle).

‘Being offended’ also seems to be the new rage these days, where we can’t say anything anymore without hurting a little some people’s feelings. So just be mindful of boundaries… in both directions.

Your peace of mind is more important than listening to negative (non-constructive) comments and wondering why they were said in the first place.

If you can’t do anything about it, then find a way to move away from it and let it go

Ofcourse easier said than done, but worth a try …

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