We can all benefit from constructive criticism. Without the adjective constructive, criticism can open a flood gate to anger and defensiveness in our professional, personal (and baseball relationships). A good example would be when the World Series announcers said the Dodgers would go on to win last Wednesday night’s game when they tied the score. Being critical and placing a caveat on the Astros, not so smart, but I digress
So how do we handle critical people and sidestep messy fights? Harriet Lerner, author of Why Won’t You Apologize? came up with some time-tested strategies that work. She says, “No one likes being on the receiving end of criticism, but we can’t avoid it. People are bound to criticize us for the same reason we criticize them. They may lash out, they may have a misguided wish to be helpful and contribute to our betterment or maybe we have a trait, quality or behavior that bothers them enough that they really do need to talk about it.” Below are 12 points to keep in mind when faced with an angry or critical person:
Recognize your defensiveness. We are wired to go immediately into defensive mode when criticized. We are listening defensively when we listen for what we don’t agree with. Breathe. Defensiveness starts in the body, making us tense and on guard, so calm down and take slow, deep breathes. Listen only to understand. Listen only to discover what you can agree with. Do not interrupt, argue, refute or correct facts. Ask questions about whatever you don’t understand. When a criticism is vague, ask for a concrete example. Find something you can agree with. You may only agree with 7 percent of what the other person is saying, and still find a point of commonality. Apologize for you part. It will indicate to the critical party that you’re capable of taking responsibility, not just evading it. Let the offended party know he or she has been heard and that you will continue to think about the conversation. Even if nothing has been resolved, tell the other person that she’s reached you. Thank the critical person for sharing their feelings. Relationships require that we take such initiative and express gratitude where the other person might expect mere defensiveness. (“I appreciate your telling me this. I know it couldn’t have been easy.”) Take the initiative to bring the conversation up again. Show the other person (or WS game 2 announcers) that you are continuing to think about their point of view and are willing to revisit the issue (when the Astros win the game). Draw the line at insults. There may be a time to sit through an initial blast, but not if rudeness has become a pattern in your relationship rather than an uncommon occurrence. Define your differences. You need to tell the critical person how you see things differently, rather than being an overly accommodating person who apologizes to avoid conflict. Timing is crucial, so consider saving your different point of view for a future conversation.
If we take the time to read over these strategies and bring our best selves to an angry or critical conversation, we may diffuse a verbal time bomb from going off at the office, at home or the ball game. Say, what was that dodger’s fan doing in the Astro’s bullpen anyway??? Go Astros!
Originally published in the Bay City Tribune on Sunday, October 29, 2017, (before the Astros won the World Series!)