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How to Handle the Cynics and Pessimists in Your Life

How To Handle the Cynics and Pessimists in Your Life

Leadership takes courage, and my guess is that some days it feels the cynics and pessimists have sucked almost all the courage and hope out of you.

I get that. We’ve all had our share of cynics and pessimists try to dissuade us from action.

We live in an age in which there is no shortage of opinion. The challenge these days in leadership (and in life) is that a lot of those opinions are not particularly helpful.

On most teams, boards, and in most organizations and churches you’ll find cynics and pessimists who are constantly offering opinions on what you should do, or more frequently, not do.

The question you have is this: How do you handle the cynics and pessimists, whose usual response to your new idea is to explain to you why it won’t work, why it’s doomed to fail or why it’s simply not worth pursuing?

Of course, cynics and pessimists rarely own up to being who they are. Instead, they tell you they’re realists.

Realism is often just a thin disguise for the much deeper problems of cynicism and pessimism.

The worst thing about the constant barrage of negative voices is that they snuff out hope. And you never get to a better future without hope.

So how should you respond? How do you keep hope alive when the cynics and pessimists keep telling you it can’t happen and it won’t happen?

Here are five ways to handle the negative voices that come your way.


Cynics and pessimists often have opinions on everything. But drill down a little further and you’ll soon discover that in their personal lives, they’ve rarely attempted anything.

Never trust those who have opinions on everything and attempt nothing with their own life.

RedditUser218 can point out everything that’s wrong with everybody else, but scroll through his profile and feed and you’ll soon discover he’s in the business of doing nothing significant other than tearing down others who are attempting to do good things…or anything.

Similarly, Twitter dude with the cartoon avatar and 113 followers likely isn’t making any original contribution of his own. Check his feed, and you’ll soon see he spends his days shooting down others who do.

Criticism is not a spiritual gift. If the only thing you contribute to a conversation is criticism, you haven’t contributed at all.

So when you’re sorting through the various voices that have come your way, consider the source.

It’s not that all negative opinions are bad opinions. Sometimes what you’re saying or doing needs correction in whole or in part.

But what I’ve found is that the best critiques come from people who are attempting to do something significant with their lives. I don’t mean famous. It could be as simple as the parent who is trying to organize all the other parents at their school or in their neighborhood. Or the barista who is hustling hard and trying to make each customer have a great experience. Or the student who is getting up early to ace her courses.

That kind of critique can be very valuable, because it comes from someone who’s in the game and trying to make a difference.

They’re the kind of people you can build the future of your church or organization on. So lean in.

But if you’re hearing from the person who has nothing but negative things to say and is honestly attempting little to nothing with their own lives—well, that’s a different story.

After all, cynics never change the world. They just tell you why the world won’t change.


All that said, your critics are probably never entirely wrong.

When you hear criticism, ask what part of it might be valid. Maybe the idea isn’t great after all. Or perhaps it’s a great idea, but you could have angled it differently, or shared it in a more helpful way.

You can learn from everyone, and you should have the humility to learn from anyone. Even your critics.

Even if what they said is 99 percent unhelpful and defeatist, learn from the 1 percent that might help you.

Pray about it. Talk about it with a trusted friend. Learn and grow.


As much as you want to learn from cynical and pessimistic people, you’re probably wasting your breath in trying to fight back or change their mind.

I’ve found the best way to engage a (true) cynic or pessimist is this: Thank them for their viewpoint, and move on.

I used to spend a lot more time trying to change people’s minds and convince everyone to come along. Sometimes it worked, but usually the latent pessimism would surface again soon, and I would emerge out of those conversations exhausted and depleted.

Years ago, someone shared this with me:

Don’t wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig liked it.

There’s a little too much truth in that.

The best way to win a battle with a cynic is to move on and build a better future.

Results have a way of speaking for themselves.

Results also usually either silence the critics or reduce their influence to the ever-shrinking group that will listen to them.

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Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.