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How to Silence Your Critics

THE NAY-SAYING CRITIC

Six years ago, having had enough of dead-end jobs, Laura Elizabeth decided to follow her dream of being a writer. She began applying to writing programs at several top universities — even though she didn't think she had the credentials to get in. "I wanted to apply to an Ivy League school," says the 31-year-old from Houston. "One of my colleagues, who knew how much I wanted this, said, 'I wouldn't waste the paper.' Where was her diplomacy? What a way to kill my spirit."

Though it may feel as if this critic simply enjoys undermining your intentions, she may also be incapable of relating beyond the prism of her own experience. She can't imagine herself getting into a top school, so she expects the school would reject you too. In this regard, she's not necessarily trying to be malicious — it just comes out like that.

There are ways to tell when a nay-saying critic is trying to be snide, however. A condescending tone of voice is an obvious tip-off, and this critic will often make a point of contrasting your choices to her far superior ones. (Example: "You're vacationing in Belize? John and I thought about going, but we decided that it's more important to save for Junior's college fund.")

You can nip this critic in the bud by turning the discussion around so that instead of being about you and your choices, it's about her. The best way to do that: Ask questions. For instance, Laura could have asked her colleague about her passions and dreams. And instead of getting defensive when naysayers unleash their negativity, let your actions speak for you. "Try to view this kind of put-down, whether intentional or not, as a challenge to prove your critic wrong," says Tessina.

THE COMPETITIVE CRITIC

"I once had a boss who I would characterize as borderline abusive," says Theresa, a 51-year-old newspaper exec in Wichita, KS. "She called me into her office and told me other department heads were complaining that I was difficult to work with. I was absolutely stunned because I didn't think that I had any problems with any of my colleagues.

"Turns out she had been telling other department heads the exact same thing — that she had received complaints about them too," Theresa recalls. "When several of us later compared notes, we realized that there was no basis at all to what she had told us. I'm not sure what could have motivated her to want to create such needless discord among her subordinates."

Most likely, the boss was paranoid that her staff might outshine her. "Any victory or happiness on your part makes this critic feel somehow less successful and less happy — as if there were only a finite amount of these successes to go around," explains Tessina. "In her mind, your moving ahead means she'll be left behind, so she tries to intimidate you into submission or chase you off completely."

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