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Coaching your inner critic

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How can you reign in your inner critic and ensure you don’t have a negative outlook from the start?

Defeating your inner critic

She crossed her arms, leaned back, forced a smile and rolled her eyes. In a recent meeting of Susan’s, it was clear the other party didn’t agree and was offended by what Susan had just said. Just witnessing what seems like someone’s judgment of us can put our inner critic on high alert. It can also set off an extremely unproductive inner dialogue: “Seriously? She thinks she knows more about this issue than I do?” Of course, that only makes things worse, as you feel more critical of the other person and yourself. The inner critic can be subtle and blatant, whispering yet loud. But once you become aware of it, you’ll see just how swift, harsh, righteous and at times toxic these voices can be.

This is because our inner critic is fuelled by the simultaneous belief that we are better than others and that we are less than others; both feelings are energised by harshness and contempt. Feeling that we’re not enough – especially at work—is painful. And while feeling superior to others can feel good on the surface, it leads to a damaging loss of loyalty in relationships. It limits our ability to learn and grow. It also skews our ability to make sound decisions, puts the people we work with on guard and erodes engagement, trust and honesty.

You don’t need to be a leadership guru to see that those are not qualities high performing leaders usually exhibit. Here are three steps you can take to disarm the inner critic and its troubling consequences...

Three ways to diminish your inner critic

Push Pause. Nothing does more to diminish the negative effects of all forms of the inner critic than by simply becoming aware of the contemptuous banter nattering away in your head. What is the Inner Critic saying? “Pushing Pause” is about listening consciously and for long enough so that compassion and curiosity are possible. Awareness has long been documented as the first step to achieving any behavior change.

Get Compassionate. The goal is to return to a more balanced mindset where you can treat others and yourself with kindness and respect. The benefits are vast: Studies show that people who practice “self-compassion” are happier, more optimistic and less anxious and depressed.

Be Curious.The best way to coach the Inner Critic out of harshness and into respect is to get curious about what you might not be seeing, what this person might have to teach you, and what you might be able to learn or grow from should you seek a different way of looking at the situation. Even better? Like the practice of “self-compassion,” evidence continues to emerge about the benefits of being an inquisitive person, with Todd Kashdan’s work on the topic.

We can’t “silence” our inner critic permanentlyThere is no arrival to a place when harshness is gone for good. But the rewards of working to keep our inner critic in check – reduced stress, better relationships, better job performance, more energy, better health and yes, even a little more happiness – are well worth the effort.

Dorie Clark

By Dorie Clark

Dorie is an adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of 2015 by Inc. magazine. Dorie is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, TIME, and Entrepreneur. Dorie is a marketing strategy consultant and speaker for clients including Google, Microsoft, Yale University, Fidelity, and the World Bank. For more information:

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