Conflict Resolution News
Criticized and Like It!
Just the word can create a negative reaction for some of us. Some of us
fear being criticized and whenever possible we avoid occasions like performance
review meetings or family events where this may occur. For some of us
giving criticism is as difficult as being criticized.
In the disputes I mediate, sometimes the giving and receiving of criticism
has fuelled the fire of a conflict already simmering. Sometimes in a mediated
discussion I hear a participant expressing their feelings of hurt by blaming
the other person. Whether the criticism is motivated by distorted self-interest
or a genuine desire to help, a defensive kick back by the person being
criticized serves to make the experience a negative one.
may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same
function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy
state of things.
of Common Ground focuses on receiving criticism. The next issue will provide
the balance, the other side of this topic – giving criticism.
One of the two most frequent responses to criticism is to fight back and
attack them even more vehemently. The other frequent response is to run
away literally or by closing up and feeling hurt. The challenge is to
handle the experience of responding to criticism so that you feel positive
about it, even if you do not go so far as to like it.
The first step of responding effectively to criticism is to manage
your reaction. You may find yourself in that first rush of anger
wanting to fight back or run away. Do not follow that rush of anger and
react based on your instincts. Take a break. You need to make some space
for yourself to think about what they are saying and about how you wish
to react. You can also use the "time out" space to talk it
over with someone who is outside the situation and is able to be objective.
You can let your critic know that you do want to talk about the subject
and that you want to do this at a later time when you can focus on it
more clearly. If possible make a specific plan with the other person about
the time when that later discussion will occur so that it does not become
a variation of running away.
Better yet is to avoid the rush of anger by thinking positively. Believing
that it is possible to achieve positive outcomes from being criticized
is an important prerequisite. If you have a meeting scheduled in which
you expect to be criticized you can start the positive self-talk in advance.
Here are some positive ideas to keep in mind:
- this person
is not necessarily trying to hurt me;
OK for me to make mistakes and not to be perfect;
- I could
learn something from this;
- this person
cares enough about me to tell me this information;
may improve this relationship;
- this is
not about who is right or wrong;
- I can
listen to them, then choose whether or not to change.
criticized gives you an opportunity to understand the other person and
their experience of you. Whatever their motivation for criticizing
you, they have provided an opening for you to examine with them the dynamic
between the two of you. Keep your focus on the goal of improving your
relationship with the other person and use the opportunity to develop
a positive outcome. You may even be able to get criticized and like it.
Steps to Getting Criticized and Liking It
yourself. See above.
2. Listen. Use good listening skills to make sure you
understand. Paraphrase, ask questions to clarify, ask for specific details,
and summarize back to them your understanding of what they are saying.
It is important first to make sure you understand what they have said
and then to communicate to them that you have "got it". Check
that your body language and tone of voice also communicate the message
that you genuinely want to understand their point of view.
is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
There is amazing positive value in agreeing, especially if the other person
does not expect agreement. If you agree with the criticism, acknowledge
that. If you disagree with the criticism, you can often find some way
to agree with something, however small, in what they’ve said. For
example you may be able to agree in part or in principle with your critic.
When we look for what is constructive and useful within what initially
seems to be otherwise, we communicate a willingness to listen and that
may inspire greater trust and honesty in those around us.
Request permission to clarify your intentions, clarify your assumptions,
or explain your understanding –all the while using good communication
skills. This does not mean argue, make excuses or justify yourself.
the problem. If circumstances warrant, immediately commit to
working out a solution. Invite them to join with you to solve the problem
or, if time is not available now, to schedule a later time when this can
a complete issue
Reader, a free download)
/ December 1999
MUNN Conflict Resolution Services
will consult with you at no charge to advise you about the appropriate
dispute resolution method in your situation.
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Q: My supervisor recently told me when we were having
lunch together that she thinks I am too aggressive and that it is getting
in the way of me being promoted. She said that she thinks I am particularly
aggressive with women. I do not think I am aggressive and she did not
give me any details. I did not say anything to her because I did not want
to lose my temper with her. I think I have not handled this well and the
situation has me very worried. Right now it is important for me to stay
with this organization and I’d like to be considered for promotion.
What should I do? If it’s too late now, how should I handle this
kind of conversation in future?
When you are being criticized, consider it an opportunity to understand
the other person. Your supervisor is giving you some insights into her
experience of you and it is important for your future relationship with
her that you respond positively. What you did well was to not lose your
temper with her, take a break and think about how to handle the situation.
Although you feel you mishandled the situation at the time, it is probably
not too late to approach the supervisor, tell her that you are concerned
and ask for time to speak with her privately. Not getting it right the
first time just means that you’re human. Usually the other person
will respond positively if you try again to resolve the situation.
For that second meeting or for future situations in which you are criticized,
follow these 5 steps as described in more detail at left.
1. Manage yourself.
5. Solve the problem.
In this situation a key factor is to clarify what your supervisor meant
when she said you are "too aggressive" and "particularly
aggressive with women". In order to respond effectively, you need
to have a good understanding of what she views as aggressive behaviour.
Ask her for specific examples of the circumstances that she is using to
draw her conclusions. The purpose of the conversation is not to decide
which of you is right but for both of you to become aware of the other
person’s perspective about appropriate conduct in this workplace.
There are several specific steps suggested for clarifying someone’s
First, describe the behaviour: "When I hear you say that
I am being aggressive…
Express the impact on you (optional): "I feel very confused"
State your assumption (optional): "I assume that you think
I am aggressive because I made several comments in the team meeting this
Invite them to clarify: "Am I right about that?" Or
"Please tell me more about that." Or "Please give me an
example of a time when you think I was aggressive with women."
Clarify your own intent (optional): "I’m asking because
I don’t want to misunderstand you. I want to do a good job here."
Invite them to problem solve (if appropriate): "I would
like to find a way to participate in team meetings so that we can all
Make sure that you understand your supervisor’s concerns and are
able to summarize them back to her before you move on to try to solve