Guest Post: 3 Truths About Negativity + How to Overcome Your Harshest Critics

how-to and resources Feb 26, 2018

I'm thrilled to feature my good friend Caitlin Pyle on the blog!

Caitlin is the founder of Proofread Anywhere and the Work-at-Home School, and today she's giving us the scoop on dealing with negativity and critics.

I know that's a topic that every single one of us can relate to, both on a personal and professional level. We've all had experiences with people who always seem to be riding the negativity bus or seem set on bringing others down around them.

Caitlin is here to tell you how you can handle those people in your life and turn less-than-great encounters into positive ones.

Take it away, Caitlin!

3 Truths About Negativity

Truth #1: People who choose negativity are everywhere. 

Truth #2: People who choose negativity are wasting time.

Truth #3: You don't have to let them waste yours.

Today we're going to explore:

1) how you can avoid "people who choose negativity." (I don't like to use the term "negative people" -- we don't know what they're going through.)

2) how to avoid wasting your own time.

3) how to differentiate between negativity and useful critique.

4) how to overcome negativity (and use it for something good!).

5) how to deal with rejection and failure you encounter on your quest for success -- whatever your path may be.

(I call this "3 Truths About Negativity," but you'll probably find a few more than 3 packed into this post!)

Everyone experiences negativity -- even me! Anyone who starts a new business of any kind will have to face it at some time or another.

Here are just a handful of some of the unkind things I've been told during the short life of Proofread Anywhere:

  • "Nice scam."
  • "Why would I buy anything from you? You don't even have an English degree."
  • "What a waste of time. Knowledge should be free."

Meanies vs. Critics

Let's differentiate: there's a big difference between a rant-filled email from a "meanie" with no other purpose than to tear you down and one with criticism that you can actually use (even if it's poorly delivered).

When I get constructive criticism, it's not always easy to digest, but I know it's a good thing.

If it's useful information, it gives me a direct pathway to grow and improve, and it didn't cost me a cent. It's like having a consultant give you advice for free!

You may not always agree with the criticism -- sometimes there are things going on behind the scenes only you understand fully -- and that's okay. You don't have to feel like you're a child being scolded whenever someone shakes a finger or expresses a dislike about something.

Ultimately, you are the boss in your business, and you get to make the final decision. Whatever decision you make, you need to feel good about it. Don't get roped into the trap of people-pleasing.

One of my PA students, Valerie, shared this quote with me. I think we should all buy T-shirts:

So there's the good stuff, but there's also the bad stuff to which no one's immune, either. The stuff that's meant as nothing more than a slap in the face, a punch in the gut, however you want to call it.

I've been criticized for openly calling out the "meanies" -- these are folks who get angry for some reason and instead of handling it like an adult, they say something hurtful.

These folks are not critics, and listening to them is a waste of time.

An example that sticks out: when we drastically expanded our transcript proofreading course on PA, I chose to make an announcement about the tuition increase. I asked for understanding and that anyone who felt the fee increase for a better course was unfair to please keep any negativity to themselves and to treat me like a human.

Totally a fair request, right?

Many readers wrote in to tell me I had every right to increase tuition since I had packed in so much more value to the course. Many readers wrote in to tell me they were HAPPY I was a human, since they'd experienced very little "humanness" on the web in the past.

But there were also a few people who felt it was not okay for me to be open and request to be treated like a fellow human.

Some folks were caught in the web of misconception that to be a professional, you can't be exactly who you are at the same time.

It was interesting, to say the least. When I received the responses, I was like, "Umm... am I not allowed to be a human? Am I not allowed to express myself freely on the platform I created? Who made that rule? How'd you become perfect?!"

Always Remember:

There is no rule, and no one is perfect. I know we can sometimes be our own harshest judges/critics, but we are all allowed to be human, and no one deserves to be treated otherwise. Just 'cause someone else doesn't think so, doesn't make it the rule.

One thing I've learned in the last few years is that some folks will always be on the lookout for something wrong, or something they interpret as wrong, with anything -- perhaps as a form of self-sabotage --  and I'm [slowly] learning to be okay with that.

And this:

We can't change people who don't want to change.

We can't help people who won't help themselves.

And we can't always predict or control how people interpret us or our actions.

We're only in charge of ourselves.

We have to let go of everything out of our control.

... but have you been told flat-out negative things in your quest to live your dream?

Maybe you've been told things like this:

  • "You should be happy you even have a job."
  • "Yeah, we'll see where this new venture goes."
  • "Don't you think you should just stay put?"
  • "Really? You're going to try that? But it's so much work."

Maybe even your spouse or a family member is critical of something new you'd like to try. Maybe people are always trying to sabotage your weight loss.

The list is endless. 

Remember Truth #2? People who choose negativity are wasting time.

So when you receive a negative email, or someone makes a negative comment, realize they are literally wasting their breath, wasting their time -- time they could be using to do something positive.

This goes for family, too, and family is the hardest. 

They mean well (usually). They may feel an innate sense of responsibility for your well-being, and even have a fear that if you go outside of the "safe" box, something bad will happen.

Even though you love them, they don't always know what's best for you or what you really need/want.

Family can often operate inside a box of age-old ideas, and any idea outside that box is labeled as wrong, stupid, careless, or irrational. Despite what they may tell you, family members don't know you better than you know yourself.

What makes dealing with negativity from family members so hard?

I think what makes it especially hard when it comes to negativity or naysaying from family is that none of us ever got official permission to make our own decisions in life, so when we start making decisions different from what those close to us would make, their initial jerk reaction is "Um, no. That's silly," or "That'll never work."

No questions, no investigation -- they just shut it down.

Who says they know it all?

Well... we kinda learned it that way.

It was beaten into our heads as kids that we have to listen to our elders, listen to our parents, that they know what's best, and while there's a lot of truth in that, you do grow up. You gather your own wisdom and learn your own way. We just never got a lesson in school or college to help us transition to the more flexible, reasonable, "grown-up" version of the "family knows best" idea: respect others' opinions, but do what you feel is best.

Important takeaway: you're an adult, you have one life, and you're in charge of living it.

Imagine growing old having always done only what other people told you was best, even if it didn't jive with what you felt was best. Wanted to become a proofreader but your dad told you it was a waste of time? Hated your job but your older sister said you'd be foolish to leave it? Always wanted to explore Europe but your best friend said it was too dangerous? Some of the best things in life happen when we take a risk and follow what's inside us, that something we've always wanted to do, or that place we've always wanted to go.

DO IT. BECOME IT. GO THERE. There is always a way. 

Using Negativity As Fuel

If you entertain the negativity, you waste time, too.

That doesn't mean you have to ignore it completely, but instead of letting it bring you down as was intended, allow it to fuel you.

Hear me on this: the best thing you can do to prove your naysayers and doubters wrong is succeed. And keep succeeding.

Not acquiesce to their negativity. Definitely not quit because they're probably right. Not argue with them. And not debate over it.

Just show them through your dedication and continued actions toward your goal.

If you're toying with the idea of starting on a new path, whether that's in transcribing or some other avenue, do not be surprised by criticism and negativity. It's coming.

Expect it.

Plan for it.

I know that may sound way too easy. But trust me. It takes time to grow a thick skin, but you can do it. For me, the mean comments generally come from people who are not even students. They come from people who are probably too scared to try. People who might be looking for an easy way out (and making a career out of proofreading definitely isn't easy!).

But still, I'm a human with feelings. Just like everyone else.

I don't mind being raw with you about it, either.

When I read unkind emails/comments from people who've forgotten I'm a human, my skin flushes and burns, my heart rate goes up a bit... I sometimes find myself oddly embarrassed and the only thing that keeps me from crying is... well, I don't know.

Early on, the horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach would linger for days, and at times I wondered if it would ever go away.

There was a time when I felt every negative email I received had some kind of power, that the person writing it was exposing me as some kind of fraud, that maybe they knew something I didn't.

But none of that is true.

People who send unhelpful, unkind, negative emails to try and tear you down are just. wasting. time. Both your time and their time.

[I know, I know -- it's still awful to have to sit there and get punched in the face by unkind people who hide behind their computer screens.]

Why do some humans think it's okay to say unkind things to other humans?

Do they realize what it's like to be on the receiving end?

There are some common theories.

Perhaps they want to make themselves feel better.

Maybe they're jealous or envious of your success and are trying to sabotage you.

Maybe they've been hurt in the past ("hurt people hurt people").

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Their negativity may have nothing to do with you, and it's easy to forget the person on the other end of the email is a human -- plus, we all make mistakes.

Realize whenever another person is outright negative toward you, it's never a reflection on you.

Someone flipping out, calling names, acting with immaturity, making judgments, holding grudges -- this behavior is always a reflection on their character, not yours.

What If You "Deserve" Negativity?

If you ever find yourself to truly be at fault for someone being upset with you (you will!), and you are met with negative behavior because of it, realize their reaction is their responsibility.

You may have indeed done or said something to hurt them, but the way they choose to react to that is 100% their choice.

No one forces anyone to become angry or to say unkind things. People choose these behaviors.

Similarly, the way you choose to react to their negative or unkind reaction is your choice.

There have been times where I've been confronted negatively because of a poor choice I'd made. Instead of reacting in the same tone I was met with, I chose to apologize and make it right, offering not an ounce of what I've come to call "defensive snarkiness."

Was it hard? YEP. Especially in cases of total miscommunication, overreaction, and general misunderstanding, you will likely find it extremely hard not to flip out and get defensive trying to plead your case and prove wrong the person you've offended.

Just take a deep breath, and be a kind human being. Own up to whatever you did to cause the ruckus, and do what you can to make it right.

Again, their reaction to your positive efforts to resolve the conflict is still their responsibility. If they choose to respond with more verbal venom, cool. Let them waste their time. You just pick yourself up, having learned from your mistakes, and move on to bigger and better things.

Moving on is hard, but it feels so, so good.

How to Deal With a Person Who Chooses Negativity

Say to yourself, "Okay, they're upset with me/don't like me/think I'm horrible/whatever."

Then ask yourself these questions (feel free to write your answers down -- it helps!):

  • Is there anything true in this email/about this comment? Could I have done something differently? (If so, make those changes in the future -- learn from the criticism, if there is any. If not, then you know the person is just wasting time.)
  • Am I making a difference in other people's lives in some way? (If you're a transcriptionist, you're darn right you are.)
  • Am I TRYING my absolute best? (Yes.)
  • What is this person actually doing? (Spending their time sending an unhelpful rant over email, wasting their life spewing hurtful things to another human, etc.)
  • What is this person NOT doing? (Not helping anyone, not spending their time building a business, not trying to make the world a better place by spreading happiness, not spending their time wisely, etc.)

When you take negativity thrown your way and focus on the positive about yourself and your efforts, using any tidbit you can get to make improvements along the way, you effectively turn what was meant for harm into FUEL for good.

To be clear, by asking yourself what the person who chose negativity is actually doing/not doing, you aren't wasting time focusing on the person. Instead, you're getting real with yourself and acknowledging how much power they have over you and your success: NONE.


IN CLOSING... Keep Being Awesome

Critics will always be there, and it will take time to develop a thick skin.

They'll always be there to tell you that you don't have what it takes, asking for your "credentials" (despite your track record of excellent results), and it makes me wonder what they do or how they feel after they hit "send" or after they say whatever to you. What exactly do they expect their negativity to achieve? Are they sitting there waiting for you to what? Crumble? Cry? Shut down and become a hermit?

I'm reminded of another quote: "Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue was ever erected in honor of a critic."

Now, as I mentioned before, you may be able to glean something useful out of a critical rant, if the critic offers suggestions, but that's not usually the case -- unhappy people who choose negativity can often pose as "critics," and it's wise to know the difference.

Beware of yourself being your own worst critic, and self-sabotage. I fall into that trap sometimes -- but we can all strive to escape that mindset :-)

Our Take

Did you love Caitlin's refreshing take on dealing with negativity and criticism as much as I did? I know I'll be repeating many of her nuggets of info in my head in the future when I need a reminder not to slide down a negativity spiral. You can attract more bees with honey than vinegar, and I firmly believe that we can all make a pledge to be more positive and uplifting to others.

Your Turn

Often, talking about our struggles with things like negativity can help a lot in defusing their effect on us. So how have you dealt with negativity and critics in your efforts to build a business? What have you learned? Any mistakes or big breakthroughs along the way? Leave me a comment and let's talk about it!

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