Taking a very specific approach can change your perspective.
“He makes me so nervous! Instead of accepting and praising what I cooked for dinner, he constantly hints that I don’t make it like I used to. He says maybe I should add more salt or basil or something like that. His comments drive me crazy, and on more than one occasion, dinner has turned into an argument.”
“Ever since our baby boy was born, this person’s constantly been giving us ‘good advice.’ ‘Put his hat on, don’t carry him around so much, give him more of this soup …’ Sometimes I have to bite my tongue not to answer her brusquely, because she’d be offended.”
“I want to study humanities, but I have an uncle who’s constantly making comments like, ‘Nowadays, it’s better for a man to study IT or to have a practical profession like being an electrician or plumber. You’d earn a lot more money.’ Every time I hear him say those things, it makes me want to slam the door in his face so I don’t have to listen to him anymore.”
Who among us hasn’t heard similar stories? Maybe at times we ourselves have had our patience and charity put to the test by someone constantly offering us unsolicited advice or criticism.
How should we react?
Here are 3 ways we can react in such circumstances:
1. We can listen to the critical comments and almost explode with anger on the inside but try not to show it, and close our relationship with that person off more and more, as well as accumulate negative feelings towards them.
2. We can listen and wait for the opportunity to turn it around and do the same thing to them, making angry comments or criticisms of the way they do things. For a moment, we might feel a sort of bitter satisfaction, but in the long term this will damage our relationship.
3. We can no longer even listen to that person, and completely ignore whatever they say to us.
Certainly, there are other combinations of these and other reactions we might have according to the context. However, after such interactions there’s always a certain feeling of unpleasantness or an awkward atmosphere.
Can we react differently?
It’s not easy to change the attitude we have towards someone who irritates us. However, there’s a way we can make it a little bit easier to work towards having a positive relationship with those people. When they begin to criticize us or to make comments and give unsolicited advice, and we begin to feel irritated, we can repeat this phrase in our mind: “They mean well,” or, “They want what’s best for me. This person has good intentions, and they say what they do because they want to help me, not because they have bad intentions. They’re doing it in good faith.”
The problem is, in many situations there is not just one idea of what’s “good.” Each of us can have a different opinion about the matter. Therefore, if someone’s advice irritates us, we can try to begin our answer with, “I know you want what’s best for me, but I disagree with you in this case because …” We’ll see that this will not only help improve our own negative attitude, but it might change the attitude of the person giving us their opinion. It shows that we respect their desire for things to be done right, and understand what they’re trying to say — we simply disagree. This is a path to dialog based on mutual respect of each other’s opinions, instead of just getting frustrated.
Kindness and self-control
Humility is a virtue we need to keep learning throughout our lives. It doesn’t necessarily mean submission to others or taking other people’s suggestions. However, being respectful and gracious in cases of disagreement brings us closer to God and others.
If we are impulsive and expressive by nature, we need to find a variety of ways to control our feelings, especially those that can lead to misunderstandings. This is just one of those ways. Why not give it a shot?
Let us use our words to say positive things, and let’s pray for people with whom we have a difficult relationships.
St. Bernardine’s advice for handling criticism gracefully
7 Ways to deal charitably with someone who doesn’t know when to stop talking