Last week we talked about taking constructive criticism like a champ because its purpose is to help you improve and succeed. What do you do when the person giving you feedback doesn’t have positive motives? How do you handle destructive criticism designed to disempower, destabilize, and destroy you?

When someone is attacking you, it is challenging to maintain your equilibrium. Since their goal is to upset you, the best thing is not to let on they have bothered you. This outward calm demeanor takes practice. But once you have mastered it, it is very powerful.

Never let them see you sweat.

  • Have a neutral expression with a slight smile and wide eyes. Practice this in a mirror. For me, sometimes just concentrating on my expression helps me keep my cool.
  • Take deep breaths, especially before you respond. This small pause gives you a moment to get your bearings.
  • Take a sip of water. I always go into a meeting with a bottle of water, especially if I know it’s going to be a tough one. Staying hydrated keeps your brain nimble and focused. Taking a sip of water when you need time to respond or calm down can help.
  • Take notes. Looking at your notebook instead of the speaker, deflects the attack, and makes you seem attentive at the same time. As an added bonus, you have a record of what was said if you need it in the future.
  • Leave the room as soon as possible.

Here are three instances where unfortunately you may encounter destructive criticism.

A Friend

Who you choose to spend time with determines not only your career success, but your mental health. It is vital to notice when your friends do not wish you well. People who are constantly belittling you and making you feel bad about yourself under the guise of being helpful are not your friends. If you notice a negative pattern, let those people go and focus on building your cheer squad.

A Performance Review

Performance reviews are supposed to be meetings where managers acknowledge employees’ accomplishments and give concrete advice on ways to improve. Often they are the exact opposite with supervisors who are threatened by others’ skill and success acting with negative intent to stop promotions, tank careers, and fire subordinates. The best way to counteract this kind of attack is to come to the meeting with two documents.

1. An up to date accomplishments list which details what you have done, who you have helped (in and outside the company), and what the result was.

2. A description of your job that you have written, starting with your snappy personal logline. Be sure to include anything that is outside the scope of the “official” job description that you do.

As you go over these two documents, you may be able to take control of the meeting and mitigate the attack. Afterwards, send a quick recap with a positive spin to your manager and copy his boss so the higher ups know what you have been up to.

If the meeting was a surprise, follow up with an email of your accomplishments list and job description to your manger and her boss.

Finally, you must consider that a boss who would use a performance review in such a negative way is toxic. The chances are slim that she is is going to change her behavior. For your mental well being and your career, you have to decide how long you are going to put up with this negativity before you get a better job elsewhere.

A Story Meeting

In Hollywood story meetings the executives, producers, and directors give notes (feedback) to the writers. Even good story meetings with insightful notes are challenging for writers. It’s five minutes of people telling you how wonderful your script is and then five hours of the same people telling you everything that’s wrong with it and how to fix it. Ouch. Often story meetings are not fun, productive, or creative. Here are a couple of scenarios and how to handle them.

1. The ideas are bad. While the note is not good, maybe they are noticing a problem in the script. Ask a lot of questions to help the executive pinpoint their concerns. Once you have a better understanding of what the note actually is, pitch solutions. Sometimes the notes are just bad and will make the project worse. At that point you have to decide how much you like the project and how much you need the paycheck. It may be time to part ways citing creative differences.

2. They didn’t like your script at all. This is the worst kind of feeling to find out that your work didn’t hit the target. The best attitude is looking at it as a learning experience and taking what you can from the feedback to improve your writing. Also, this may be a sign that you are not a good fit with the project or filmmakers and it is time to move on.


When getting destructive feedback, recognize what is happening and work on remaining outwardly calm and not getting destabilized. Afterwards, make a plan for dealing with these people in the future. If it is a friend, consider distancing yourself. If it is a work relationship, it may be time to look for another job. Finally, in situations like these I always fall back on one of my favorite sayings “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” Remember there is only one you! Don’t let anyone dim your light.

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