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1 September 2004

Dear FAW,
My boss is hyper-critical and finds fault in everything I do. Nothing is ever good enough for him. He isn’t a perfectionist – his own work could use some help – he just takes pleasure in criticizing others. This guy is an engineer with no training or experience in writing, yet he once told me he never read anything he couldn’t write better. His criticisms are off the wall. However, my annual reviews are always good to excellent, which only confuses me more. His negativity undermines my confidence and self-worth, stifles my initiative, and makes me feel depressed and hopeless. What should I do?
–Jane, Boise Idaho

Dear Jane,
It’s so difficult to know what has happened in a person’s life that makes them find fault in everything. The key to dealing with a negative person is to move them away from fault finding toward problem solving. If you present something and the person starts to criticize it, you can thank them for their input, and inquire whether they have any suggestions for remedying the problems that they have identified. You will notice immediately that the negative person is far less helpful when it comes to offering solutions, but moving towards solutions is the only way over the long term that your relationship is going to work. The key to transforming the relationship is your ability to move from being on opposite sides of the fence to being on the same side. Therefore, when he does offer suggestions, thank him profusely and get back to him on your progress in implementing the suggestions. That will encourage him to offer more constructive feedback the next time around.

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