I heard a story recently, from a man who was asked by his teen-aged daughter what she should do about a boy who liked her. Suddenly, out of the blue, the boy had told her he thought she was cute. “What should I do,” she asked her dad. “Should I like him too?”

“That depends,” he answered. “Do you respect his opinion?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, if he told you that you were ugly, would you think you are ugly?”

“No way. I’d ignore him for being a jerk,” she said.

“So, you’d ignore his bad opinion of you but, you want to accept his flattering opinion of you, is that it?” her dad asked.

“Well, yeah! Duh!”

“What’s the difference?” he asked her. “I mean, if you wouldn’t respect his negative opinion of you, then you can’t very well accept his positive response to you. You can’t have it both ways. Either you respect his opinion or you don’t, even if one of them happens to feed your ego,” he explained.

We’re all guilty of something similar. We love to receive praise – often regardless of the source. Yet, unjustified praise is meaningless and should be ignored as completely as unjustified criticism, even if it does reinforce your opinion of yourself. In other words, you should always consider the source of both praise and criticism. Either may be invalid.

“But, what about unjustified criticism?” you ask.

First, if you get your feelings hurt by negative criticism, it’s very likely that you’ve heard something true about yourself that you’ve been trying to deny – a blind spot or shadow. If the criticism is untrue, then the other person’s judgment is flawed and there is still no reason to take offense. There are two rational responses to criticism:

  • If it’s true – take action to change it. It is human to feel the hurt that comes with critical feedback and, with practice, you will learn to not get defensive or reactive. If you respect the other person’s opinion, then appreciate their judgment and advice. In spite of the hurt, take stock of yourself and begin working to make some changes.
  • If it’s not true – ignore it. If the opinion of someone else is so off the mark about you, let the projection or mis-read bounce back to the sender. No need to beat yourself up about an incorrect judgment. Ignore it, don’t react or defend, and move on.

Of course, I’m talking about interpersonal relationships here. If the jerk you’re dealing with happens to be your boss, you may want to get curious about what’s driving his mistaken reads.

Oh, by the way, the man who shared this story with me told me his daughter wound up ignoring the kid, who promptly began spreading rumors about her. You go, Dad!