Dear Dan: Negative Comments Cause Self-Doubt

Dear Dan,

How do I overcome the nagging doubt that arises when someone else makes a negative comment about me or my performance? It may be a minority view. Everyone else is happy but there is the one person who finds reason to be unhappy with me. How do I put that into a broader perspective?


Self-doubt builds a narrow future. Image of a person walking in a narrow alley.

Dear Pete,

Self-doubt is a miserable burden that we impose on ourselves. Our feelings are ours. Detractors don’t make us feel anything. Owning our emotions is a lesson we learn and relearn. My problem is I want to be liked.

Self-doubt is the desire to be liked yelling at us.

Hearing negative comments is worth it if taking ownership of self-doubt is the only thing that comes from it. Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Connect with your freedom.

  1. You don’t have to agree.
  2. You don’t have to change anything.
  3. You can lean in with curiosity.
  4. You may choose to work on improving something in yourself.
  5. You may choose to challenge their behavior and assumptions.
  6. You may choose to let it go.
  7. You will only open your mouth to make things better.

“The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.” Herbert Agar, A Time For Greatness.

Notice self-doubt:

Don’t try to defeat self-doubt, just notice it. “Well, hello there Mr. Self-Doubt.” Write down everything that self-doubt wants you to feel and think and do. Throw away the paper when you’re done.

Should you have a conversation with nagging critics?

How powerful is the person who is unhappy with you? If it’s the boss, go to them and hash it out. Ask them not to evaluate your performance in public.

If it’s a colleague, thank them for their feedback and move on. Don’t bring it up again.

If it keeps nagging you, go to them in private.

Don’t defend yourself. Don’t make excuses. Say, “I notice you said xyz about my performance. I’m committed to be the best I can be. What caused you to bring that up?”

Accept their perspective. “Thanks for sharing that.” If you disagree, just leave it. If a response is required, tell the truth. “I respect your thoughts. I don’t see things like you. Right now, I’m focusing on other things.”

Choose openness over defensiveness.

Defensiveness is weakness. Be open. They could be right. Express gratitude, even if it stings. The alternative to gratitude is a dead end. Learn and grow.

If it continues bothering you, do the writing exercise again. Write down everything that bothers you about it and throw the paper in the garbage. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t try to fix the other person. Just notice it and throw it away.

If it still bothers you, invite others in. Seek an advisor, coach, or counselor. Whatever you do, don’t let it fester.

Bring your best self to work.

Bring your best self to difficult situations. What would you do…

  1. If you were filled with healthy self-confidence?
  2. If you were comfortable with yourself?
  3. If you showed up to grow?
  4. If you showed up to build relationships with everyone on the team?

Treat people better than they deserve.

I took a job where my predecessor told me the secretary was the devil. I challenged myself to have a good relationship with her. We never became buddies, but I learned to respect her attention to detail.

Dealing with self-doubt is challenging but essential for personal growth and self-confidence. Self-doubt builds a narrow future.

Tip: You’re dangerous if you never doubt yourself.

What suggestions do you have for dealing with self-doubt?

Still curious:

The 6 Powers of Healthy Self-Doubt

Authenticity: 7 Ways to Navigate Self-Doubt

6 powerful ways to beat self-doubt

Master Your Inner Critic

5 Ways to Expose Your Inner Critic

Author’s note: I relax my 300 word limit on “Dear Dan” posts.