What is the best way to deal with friends who are becoming increasingly critical and judgemental to the point where they are intimidating you and making you want to back away from the friendship, but you know deep down they are very unhappy in themselves?
The best way to deal with such people is to use reflective listening skills. Perhaps you have heard of reflective listening. You may even have used it from time to time. However there is a trick to making it work effectively.
Reflective listening is like holding a mirror up to your critics. You reflect their comments back to them.
There are two major advantages of this approach.
Firstly, if you do it often enough, your critics gradually start to see themselves more clearly. They either change their behaviour towards you or they avoid you. Either way, your problem is solved.
Secondly, you protect yourself. Their criticism doesn’t hurt you because you are not relating personally to anything they say. Instead, you’re focusing on listening to them.
Let me demonstrate with an example.
Let’s say your friend tells you, “You look better in neutral colours, rather than that bright red you are wearing.”
Normally you would defend your choice, giving reasons why you wore it.
When you listen reflectively you do not engage in any discussion of what you should or should not wear. Instead you rise above that and focus on your critic’s viewpoint, responding with, “So you prefer me in neutral colours?”
She would probably say something like, “Yes, I think it suits you much better.”
You could reply with, “So you think I should avoid bright colours.” Then change the subject. For example, point something out or comment on the day’s activities.
Your friend might ignore your change of subject and ask for your personal opinion on wearing neutral or bright colours. In this case, you again acknowledge her view before expressing your own. For example, “I know you prefer me in the neutral colours but I quite like wearing bright colours anyway.”
Now make another attempt at changing the subject. If your friend is generally negative you might find yourself doing more reflective listening on the next topic.
Putting up with ongoing negativity can get positive people down. This is because positive people have their own agenda. They think people should be happy and look on the bright side of life’s challenges.
If you have this positive agenda, you might struggle to listen reflectively. You will be tempted to challenge the critic with examples of positive viewpoints. This will not please the critic and gradually exhaust you.
You are not responsible for turning miserable, negative people into happy little Vegemites. Your job is to love and accept others as they are.
These people are miserable, critical and unhappy. They are allowed to be this way. There might be reasons for their misery.
Once you accept their right to be miserable and critical, you will find reflective listening is much easier. In fact, being around them will be much easier.
Reflective listening skills shield you from their negativity. You can be relaxed and peaceful about their right to be negative and critical.
For example if your friend said, “Look at all that litter! Aren’t people disgusting!” you could respond with “You feel upset when people litter.”
As well as protecting you from her negativity, you give your friend the gift of being heard and acknowledged.
The trick to effective listening is your TOTAL focus on the other person.
You do not consider your own views at all. While you are in reflective listening mode, your views do not matter. You are not defensive. In fact, you cannot be defensive when you completely ignore your own views.
Your focus is totally on how the speaker is experiencing this issue.
Of course you do have views. You can share your views but not until you have reflected back two or three times to your friend. Once you have fully acknowledged your friend’s position, you can share your view.
In effect, you are saying to the other person, “You have these views and you have a right to have such views but I have different views and I have a right to hold my views.”
Reflective listening is a technique that completely acknowledges that we are all different with different perspectives of the world. And each individual’s view is valid—for him or her.
Try this technique with your friends and see what happens. It might take a while but eventually you will see changes in the relationships you have with these critical and judgemental friends.
Tips for dealing with critical friends:
- Free yourself of needing their approval or support.
- Accept they have a different view of life and they have a right to this view.
- Never get defensive.
- Don’t criticize them.
- Focus 100% on what they are saying.
- Reflect their sentiments back to them.
- Change the subject.
- Only share your views after you have acknowledged theirs.
Need help dealing with your relationships? Our team at North Brisbane Psychologists can help. Book an appointment today.