How can I be more discerning of others?

When people you disagree with disagree with you, it's actually a wonderful thing

Only one update today: Make sure you register to vote.

That’s it. Go vote. Our nation depends on it.

Let’s jump in:


Hater culture is everywhere. It’s in the real world. It’s online. It’s at work. It’s at school. It can even be within your family. There’s no escaping harmful comments, hypercritical remarks, and external judgments about your personality, passions, and projects—that’s a certainty life will always offer. So, if we can’t change the world, how do we change ourselves? What does it take to build a more discerning eye and filter negativity directed thrown our way?

Generally speaking, it’s a great feeling when society likes and approves of you. This dates back to our origins. Humans are tribal animals—our survival is contingent on our ability to get along and work together. When we aren’t liked it threatens our survival. Our primal instincts kick in. We could be outcasted… thrown out of the village! Fear starts to settle.

With this in mind, it makes sense why you would inflate the magnitude of every negative comment directed your way—I know I do this often. Simply put, not every comment deserves the same level of consideration, attention, and respect. It’s a strange concept. It’s natural to want to listen to others and pay close attention to what someone is saying. I’m trying to practice and master discernment now, and I can already see how it will have incredible long-term positive implications.

The power of this skill is best understood through an extreme example. Let’s say you are writing a book. You share your first chapter on Twitter to get some feedback. One comment, magically, comes from a published author you admire. She says it’s a wonderful start to your book. Another comment comes from a colleague who notoriously hates to read. He says it’s crap and suggests you hire a ghostwriter. How do you feel? In this example, you may feel ecstatic the author provided positive feedback while simultaneously being a bit bummed that someone told you to turn off the computer and give up. In reality, both should motivate you to continue writing your book. Here’s why:

Praise from someone you admire should motivate you.

Admonishment from someone you contempt should motivate you. Wait… what?

Yes, this is so important let me say it again: admonishment from someone you contempt should motivate you. Think about it. If you are angering people you disagree with or who don’t have the authority to provide meaningful feedback, then you are doing something right. I often forget this. It’s not a good thing to be liked by everyone. There are plenty of people out there who don’t align with your core values, understand your passions, and appreciate your personality. Why on Earth would you try and adjust your actions to please these people?

Simple answer: you wouldn’t and shouldn’t.

So, for today’s grid, we are going to walk through a framework I’ve started to use to help me discern when a comment is or is not worth my time.

On the x-axis, we have how you interpret negative or hypercritical comments. Do you accept what others say immediately? Do you pause and assess their motives? This axis centers on your ability to play poker, so to speak. There’s a poker adage that says, “play the man, not the cards.” This wisdom should be applied across life. Seeking to understand the motivations and the psychology of the person spewing negativity is a surefire way to immediately become more discerning. Understanding the person enables you to better handle the comments.

On the y-axis, we have how you respond to negative or hypercritical comments. Once you have chosen to either accept or assess the judgment, what’s your next move? Do you engage or ignore the person who slighted you? Part of the assessment needs to be deducing whether or not responding is even worth your time.

Understanding the Grid

For this framework, the goal is to work your way to always be on the right half of the grid—to assess before you accept. Depending on the person and the comment, engaging may or may not be in your best interest. What is for sure, however, is that blindly accepting all negative feedback as the truth gets you nowhere.

Debater

You assess comments before accepting them, and you engage in a response. In this quadrant, your discernment is high. You’ve made the internal calculations necessary to understand the motivations behind both the person before dealing with the comment. The result is that you believe the best response is engaging, debating, and making your case. Landing in this quadrant is common when having a civil discussion about politics—difficult these days (especially online). However, when you’re able to have a cordial conversation about politics, it requires having a strong understanding of the other people involved. Your assessment leads you into the conversation. You deduce that there is something to gain (maybe respect or knowledge) through participation.

In one of my group threads, my friends and I lob politically commentary at each other almost daily. The eight of us run the political spectrum: from progressive to moderate to conservative. Often comments can be hypercritical of someone else’s views. Rather than immediately accepting and digesting that opposing viewpoint, we all engage in debate. We defend, grow, and learn. In the background, silently, we all understand everyone’s intentions. These comments aren’t meant to denigrate anyone in the group. They’re designed to lead to a greater collective understanding and well-roundedness of the issues. Our discernment allows us to play a game we can win: enlightenment.

Pragmatic

You assess comments before accepting them, but you end up ignoring them. This is the quadrant we should strive to land in when disparaging or hateful comments are thrown our way. Being pragmatic means trusting our discernment to protect our mood and self-esteem. Said differently, being able to assess someone else’s motivations, recognize them as ill-intended, and quickly move on to more important topics allows us to better self-regulate our emotions. Often, when we assess why others put down our personality, projects, or passions it comes from a place of jealousy, envy, and frustration.

This happened to me recently. While I often receive replies praising Gridology, sometimes I hear negativity and trolling, too. My initial reaction is to internalize, accept their words as truth, and lament about it to myself and my loved ones. I start to question if these people are actually right. Rather than going down the internalizer path, I now strive to be a pragmatist. I seek to understand the person behind the comment. Why are they saying what they are saying? Does their opinion matter? Do they have clout or expertise that compels me to listen? After a quick analysis, I realize that the person behind the comments is just a balloon—easy to deflate or, even better, let go of and watch fly away. There’s no need to respond, the comments just aren’t worth my time.

Apologetic

You immediately accept comments without assessment, and you engage in a response. In this quadrant, what you hear—negative or hypercritical—immediately is accepted as truth. There is no outer layer of discernment to protect your emotional well-being. Once the comment is accepted, you feel compelled to respond to save face. Whether you can win the game at hand (convincing the other person that their comment is wrong and unjustified) doesn’t matter. You have to at least try. The notion that someone could negatively think about you deeply bothers you. The need to be well-liked consumes your thoughts and actions. Since you’re accepting their words as truth, you look to apologize rather than fight back. It can be easy to land in this quadrant at the office (er, video chat). We all have a strong desire to keep peace with our colleagues. Whether right or wrong, social norms and unwritten workplace rules tell us that we should look to extend olive branches rather than throw gasoline on fires. Whether you believe you’re in the right or the wrong, office culture tells us we’re better off being the one to extinguish fires than to be the one to make them bigger.

Internalizer

You immediately accept comments without assessment, but you end up ignoring them. In this quadrant, you are kept up at night from negative and hypercritical comments. You may as well be a contestant on Naked and Afraid—out in the open and ready to be eaten alive by bugs and pummeled by the rain. You’re totally unprotected. When negativity is tossed your way, you gobble it up and blame yourself. Above all, you’ve forgotten the golden rule of today’s grid (it’s so essential I’ll say it for a third and final time): admonishment from someone you contempt should motivate you. Not all negativity should be treated equally. Do not let unjustified negativity slow you down rather than speed you up. Ideally, internalizers can begin the process of becoming pragmatists. It starts with asking two important questions when someone flings hate your way:

  1. Do I admire or respect this person?

  2. Is this someone I’d come to for advice on this topic?

These questions can help you perform a rudimentary assessment if the comments that are currently weighing you down are coming from a credible and worthy source. Sometimes we just need to put on the noise-canceling headphones so we can do our thing.

Grid Shortcomings

  1. This grid assumes you aren’t an externalizer. An externalizer is someone who looks to blame others rather than ever blaming him or herself. If you are an externalizer, this framework can be useful to help understand how internalizers can receive your comments. When you externalize, negative comments bounce off of you like rain on a raincoat. Discernment, most likely, is not top of mind as its already hard-wired into your system—it never can be you because it’s always someone else’s fault.

  2. The negative and hateful comments in this grid are understood not as valuable feedback. I’ve spoken at length about the importance of feedback and how to give great feedback to others. This grid is not about feedback. It’s about comments that come unsolicited, are meant to bring your mood down, or meant to make you see one point of view as better than another.

Discernment is an underrated and crucial social skill. Without it, we are left unprotected from everyone else’s personal baggage and negativity. It would be like playing an NFL game without pads on—you simply wouldn’t do it. I hope this framework helps you begin mastering how to be more discerning of other’s intentions before accepting their comments as fact.

Life’s only as confusing as you let it be,
Ross


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