Responding to Criticism Without Being DefensiveWritten by Sharon Ellison
In an actual war, to be attacked means to have our survival threatened. Thus, we might chose between surrender, withdrawal, or counterattack. When we feel attacked (criticized or judged) by others in conversation, we often move into that same kind of survival mentality and automatically defend ourselves. But conversation is different than war. When we defend against criticism, we give more power to criticism and person dishing it out than is warranted. While we might need to set some limits if someone is verbally abusive, I think we often ward off criticism far too soon, discarding anything that is valid, as well as what is invalid. The person's words may hurt, but they will hurt less, I think, if we ask questions, decide which pieces we agree with (if any) and which ones we don't agree with. We can just think about it, we don't have to fight it as if we were being attacked with a lethal weapon. I watch people's self-esteem increase simply from becoming less defensive in face of criticism and judgement. Besides, we may find a priceless gem in with some junk.
The War Model: When someone attacks, you surrender, withdraw, or counterattack The Non-Defensive Model: Ask questions, decide what you think, and then respond!
The remainder of this article will demonstrate how to respond non-defensively to criticism by giving examples for parents, couples, and professionals. While examples are specific to a certain type of relationship, information is valuable in any relationship. For example, dealing with harsh tones or "pay-backs" can happen with children or adults, at home or at work. Parents: Are You Letting Your Child Speak Harshly to You? Or Putting Up With Criticism Because of Guilt? As parents, we often love our children so much and simultaneously feel inadequate to meet all their needs. They sense this and can learn early how to make us feel guilty as a way to get what they want. I hear so many children, starting at a young age, speaking in harsh critical tones to their parents. Ginny may simply say "You know I hate peas!" Sam might shout "You never want to let me do anything with my friends!" The judgment might be more deeply critical of your choices, such as, "You made dad leave! You should tell him you're sorry so he'll come back." When we respond to our child or teen or even our adult child's criticism, if guilt has a hold on us, we may "take it," and even apologize, or try to explain ourselves so he or she understands why we behaved in a certain way. If we are over our own edges, we may lash back. What I think we can do instead is to separate tone of judgment from content of what is being said. We can say to Ginny, "If you don't want peas, I still want you to tell me gently." Or, "If you speak to me harshly, then I'm not going to answer. If you speak respectfully, I'll talk to you about this." Then, if that child, teen or adult offspring does talk without harsh judgment, we can, if it is appropriate, offer to discuss situation. In this way, we can not only refuse to cave in to undue criticism, we can model for our children how to (a) talk about what they need and feel without being judgemental, and (b) respond with a blend of firmness and openness even when someone speaks harshly to us or them. Couples: Avoid "Pay-Back" When One of You "Gets Critical" When we are in intimate relationships, we often have a "ledger of offenses" that we have accumulated with each other. And what I do that offends you often prompts reaction in you that offends me. So when you criticize me, your partner, it reminds me of what you do that "makes" me react that way. And so counterattack game begins. "Well, I wouldn't have to react this way if you didn't always . . ." Or, "Look at you criticizing me for having a double standard. Haven't you ever looked in a mirror?!"
I’m Sorry! Blame-Game or Accountability?Written by Sharon Ellison
A powerful tool for health as we approach new year can be to focus on giving and/or receiving only real apologies when we want to heal a rift with a family member, friend, or co-worker. We hear apologies all time, but I don’t think many of them are sincere. An apology has to be real to heal. Trang Lei spent day helping Martha buy furniture and art for her remodeled living room, but Martha never even offered to buy Trang Lei’s lunch and so she felt unappreciated. Later when she told Martha she felt hurt, Martha said, “I’m sorry. I was just so excited about what I was buying that I didn’t even think about it.” Trang Lei did not feel better. In fact, she felt worse. · What was wrong with Martha’s apology? Martha’s apology came with a built-in excuse, implying that however she behaved was unintentional—beyond her conscious control. Moreover, Martha has an expectation that Trang Lei will accept excuse. Thus, Martha perpetuates original problem by continuing to be more focused on herself than on Trang Lei. I call this kind of apology “Sorry-Excuse.” Even Martha wasn’t consciously manipulating, her goal was not to take responsibility but to find a way out of it. In most cases, if you don’t accept other people’s excuses when they apologize, they will quickly get irrupted at you, blaming you for not being understanding. When we receive a counterfeit apology we often sense it and so rather than hurt being healed, it is deepened—as in old saying, “adding insult to injury.” I think almost all of us give such apologies. And we model it for our children. Guidelines for making real apologies: One: Identify common formats for apology that are" counterfeit." If you clearly various types of bogus apologies, it will help you recognize when you give or receive an one. Here are some examples of common phrasing. · “Sorry—Excuse” · Example: “I’m sorry I didn’t call—I’ve been really busy.” · Translation: Please be understanding about fact that other things were more important than you.” · “Sorry—Denial of Intent” · Example: “I’m sorry you took it that way. It wasn’t what I meant.” · Translation: I think it’s too bad that you had difficulty understanding me correctly. · Example: “I’m sorry if I offended you.” · Translation: I can’t think of anything I did wrong, but if you think so, I’d be happy to apologize so I can get back in your good graces. · “Sorry—Blame” · Example: “I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner. Have you been feeling