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Hearing the Hard to Hear

You hear something unflattering about yourself. It happens. How you handle the situation as an adult matters more than it did when you were in high school. This is your opportunity for real growth. Here are some things to avoid:

1. Running Away.

When a person points out a negative trait of ours, or airs a grievance, it is tempting to run away. We want to remove that person from our life. There are a million social media memes we can latch onto about “removing negative people from our lives.” And while shedding toxic people is important, ignoring criticism is dangerous to personal development. Cutting people out should not be a go-to behavior in your adult life. Instead, this is a chance to move through an uncomfortable situation and come out a better person (with stronger, more developed relationships).

2. Thinking the other person is crazy.

Like running away, thinking the other person is “crazy” is also dangerous to personal development. What part of the criticism or comment can you actually embrace? Even if a negative comment seems to come out of left field, there is an element of truth to the person making the comment. Is there anything in the conversation that you can accept? Can you honor the way they feel? Just because a person can see (or has a problem with) one of your negative behaviors or habits doesn’t mean that person is nuts.


3. Talking about it over and over and over again to everyone you know.

When you rehash a conversation you had, with people who were not involved in the original conversation, you are in danger of gossiping. It is also another “avoidance” tactic to facing the truth in the difficult conversation. Also, are you fishing for someone to say, “That’s not true. You are ___. That person is crazy”? Because if you are, you are not only missing the growth opportunity, you are also making the other person uncomfortable. This behavior says to the new person, “I cannot handle any criticism or truthful conversation.”

4. Allowing the comment to morph into a lie.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and then found out later they heard nothing you said? I have. Don’t let this happen to you. If someone says something, take it for what it is. Pull out the helpful information and move forward. Maybe you need to make some changes in your life. In fact, you probably do. Realistically, if you are upset by a conversation, especially if it was with someone you considered a friend, the truth in the conversation is what you are reacting to most. The hurt you feel is a signal for you to take a hard look at your own behavior and make a change. Face it like an adult. The worst thing you can do is twist the conversation into things that were never said at all.

5. Internalizing the comment to the point of depression.

Now that you have faced the truth, don’t allow it to tear you apart. Move forward. Apologize. Make amends. Vow to work on that behavior and mean it. Do not, however, dwell on your negative traits. If you find that you can’t move forward from a difficult conversation, you might want to talk to a professional. Read a book or two about learning to accept criticism. Research a few good articles, and practice hearing the hard to hear.

Use your feelings as a signal. When you feel hurt by something, take that as a chance to see yourself through other’s eyes. Even if you disagree with the person, looking at your behavior through someone else’s point of view can alert you to aspects of yourself that need work. Do you need to brush up on communication skills? Do you need to pay more attention to other people’s feelings? Do you need to make adjustments in how you spend your time? Facing challenging situations is key in healthy adult relationships.



  1. Very important advice. I’ve learned that handling constructive criticism can help us grow as a person.

    • So true. It is not easy to do. I find I still struggle to handle criticism with grace at times. It is so easy to shrug it off without hearing the useful information.

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