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Handle It – Dealing with Criticism and Negative Feedback (Part 8)

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(…continued from last week)

Managing the Negatives

There are various ways of dealing with criticism or negative feedback when it comes at us. What works best for someone you know, may not work for you. In order for any of these methods to work well they must be practiced.

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Overviewing them one time is not going to help. Repetition of usage makes it easier. Then you can pick out a criticism management skill and hone it. We need to break free of the old reactive patterns of criticism. It is essential you make a focused practice of dealing with it because it is going to happen. To hope no one ever criticizes or picks on you is just wishful thinking.

Criticism Management

One of the very first things everyone must do when you get in the situation of negativity is relax. Criticism can cause you to tense up. It puts you in a defensive or aggressive body posture and changes the emotional tone of your voice making it harder to think of an effective response.

Before you respond to the person, do what grandma always told you. Take a deep breath and count to ten. It sounds silly but it works. Breathe deeply, breathe slowly, unclench your hands, and relax your chest, neck and shoulders. Ease the tension in your face and your body as you are talking with this person, and breathe.

Second, we need to hold back a bit. Keep yourself in check. The intention of indirect criticism or direct criticism even, is to get a rise out of you. In other words, the person wants you to get upset about the remark. They want you to interact. Then they can say something like “Boy are you ever touchy, I didn’t mean anything by it.” Hold yourself back a bit, get a little calmer, chill a bit, and don’t get caught up.

A strategy that makes a big difference for most of us is to avoid retaliation. When someone comes to you and says something negative directed at you or your people don’t immediately turn the focus onto them. “Oh yeah? Well yesterday you said you’d get the project finalized. Did you? No!” It’s tempting, and you may even be right, but this makes the person feel they haven’t been heard and often times makes it even worse, it makes the aggression go up. Don’t get caught up in the drama of finger pointing. It doesn’t help you and it definitely won’t help them.

Something that can really make a difference in many cases is when you can validate the person’s perspective. If you can see why that person may think what they are thinking – say so. “I can see why you might think that.” This immediately diffuses some of the frustration because it makes a reasonable exchange more likely.

When a person gets that you can see their perspective, they feel heard to some degree. The fear holding you back from doing this is that usually there is a belief that the other person might have just won.

Well, they might have won a little bit but they didn’t win the battle. The reality is they usually begin to calm down enough so you can have a sane discussion, which is the point. Validate their perception, let them know you get it why they see it that way or why that might be true for them.

Another way is to validate the person’s emotions. If a person is upset, acknowledge that you can see that they are really concerned about this and you see how frustrated they are with the way things have gone. This is an aspect of empathy.

The person again usually feels they have been heard (to at least some degree) and then usually will begin to relax a bit when you validate their emotions.

Emotional drama is quite often designed to show you that this is serious to them. And when you let them know you get it that they feel strongly about whatever it is, the function of them being emotional has been served. You can then usually talk more easily.

Another aspect of validation is agreeing in part. Ninety five percent of what they are saying could be inaccurate and wrong. But, is there a kernel of truth in their message? Is there one percent or two percent or five percent that you could agree with because it is true to at least some degree? You may be unwilling to agree with the entire criticism because much of it is wrong or inaccurate.

Agreeing in part with that small percent of what they said makes a difference. “You’re right. I need to control my temper so I don’t say the first thing that comes to my mind when I am upset with my employees.” Or “Yes you are right. I didn’t get the work completed on time. I can work on that. I see what you are saying.” Agree in part.

“It makes a difference to the whole team – I can hang things up if I don’t hit the time deadlines.” Agreeing with the specific point, even if you don’t agree with all the emotional stuff, calms them down and helps them get it that you understand the message.

Sometimes we need to let them vent. We need to listen and wait, which is another strategy before you respond. Allow the critic to voice the point completely. What was the very first thing I said you need to do? Relax, breathe, chill, and listen. Eventually, they are going to run down, they are going to slow down and be more prepared for an open exchange.

If you jump in with your response immediately they are going to feel blocked. They are going to get emotional and it’s going to escalate. You don’t like to be criticized; at the same time you don’t have to take it on – that’s a choice. You can listen, you can participate, you can chill you can acknowledge what you agree with–and you don’t have to get caught up in his or her drama!

One strategy that really slows people down is to ask for clarification. When you’re given an indirect criticism it’s fair to ask the person about it. Rather than responding to what you guess they mean, ask them. This forces the person to take responsibility. If they say “Managers never really listen to what employees want,” you might reply, “I am a manager, I am not sure what you mean. Please tell me a little more about what you are specifically talking about.”

In response to the dirty look you might say “I am not sure what that expression meant.” If the person refuses to elaborate that’s their right, you can’t control their behavior but you’ve communicated and you let them know you got their message. Ask for clarification, “Please tell me a little more….” is always appropriate.

(to be continued…)


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