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Faith Wood knows how to resolve conflict. Her years in front-line law enforcement taught her how to effectively de-escalate any situation to a successful conclusion. Faith will use her knowledge of conflict management to guide you through the often stressful experiences you may encounter in your personal or professional life. Her Conflict Coach column appears every two weeks.

Faith WoodQuestion: As is the case for most of us these days, video conferencing has become a mainstay in our lives, be it for family get-togethers or for collaborating on work projects.

One would think that folks would be less challenging on this platform, but that’s not always the case. With the holidays coming up and everyone needing to meet online this year, do you have some tips for navigating those folks in our lives who never have a positive word to utter and spend their time excessively criticizing?

Answer: When we find ourselves navigating individuals who are relentlessly negative, it can suck the joy out of life and our holiday get-togethers – online or otherwise.

Yes, it has been a tough year for a lot of people but dwelling on the negative has never infused a moment with joy. No matter what happy news you might have, overly-critical or negative individuals are guaranteed to find the cloud to fit your silver lining.

Here are six strategies you can use to deal with hypercritical people.

Don’t take it personally

It’s a safe bet that it’s not you, it’s them.

Some people just hug their negativity around them like a security blanket and it colours their view of the world. They criticize everything because that suits them.

Watch how they treat other people. It’s guaranteed they criticize everybody, not just you.

Listen to the message

Is the person obscuring the message?

Maybe your critical colleague or friend is tactless, or bad at expressing themselves rather than being mean.

Try to see past the messenger to understand what’s really being said. Otherwise, you might miss out on some valuable advice.

Accept the feedback

You can decide to take crucial feedback on its own merits – that is, as a source of honest feedback.

At least with hypercritical people what you see is what you get!

If you can see past the blunt delivery, you may find a kernel of truth that can improve the way you do things.

Deal with your discomfort

Criticism never feels good. Try to read your own discomfort as another source of information about what’s being said.

Does the negative feedback trigger a recognition deep within you?

Maybe it subconsciously reminds you of a past event, but maybe there’s a ring of truth in the criticism. Sit with your discomfort and see what it’s telling you.

If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen

If you can’t stand being criticized, then it’s up to you not to get into situations with people who are likely to criticize you. Don’t ask for advice or expose yourself to their negativity.

They’re not likely to change, so you need to take control and avoid such conversations. Don’t share good news if you know they’ll throw cold water on it, don’t seek their praise if you know you won’t get it.

Stay out of their way

You have a choice about how to deal with negative people. You can decide not to engage with their negativity, you can ignore them or you can just avoid them altogether.

If you must have contact with a negative person at work, for example, be helpful but don’t engage with them.

Otherwise, it’s up to you whether you want to have any contact with such negativity.

Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. 

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