Report on the “Dealing with Criticism – How to Cope and How to Respond” business matters lunchtime talk given by David Craigie on 18 September 2013.
business matters is very grateful to Brodies LLP who hosted the event and provided a buffet lunch for those attending.
To view the PowerPoint presentation which accompanied the talk, hear a (30 minute) recording of David’s talk and hear a (9 minute) recording of the Q&A session use the icons at the foot of the page.
David started by making the very sensible assumption that most people had come along because they do not like criticism and want to be able to cope when it arises.
With this in mind, he outlined the key topics he wanted to cover in the talk:
- How do we respond when criticised?
- Why do others criticise?
- Invited vs Uninvited criticism
- What is our conflict style?
- The psychology of our responses
- Resilience tips
David mentioned that earlier in the year he had been asked to deliver a talk to a group of leaders in interim management positions – they were given free rein to pick a topic and the subject chosen unanimously was “how to cope when you are the subject of criticism” – clearly this is a very relevant topic to many if not all of us.
He painted a picture that many of us are familiar with: you put your energies, your heart and soul, into a piece of work or a project and then along comes a word of criticism which just brings you down – this is the scenario that so many of us wish we could deal with.
David shared a quote from Bill Cosby which he had found, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” Many of us are people pleasers at heart and we want to please everybody but this almost always results in us heading for some pain.
He asked us to think how each of us respond when we are faced with criticism – perhaps in the face of an email or phone call which made our heart sink as we read or listened to comments which were negatively directed towards us.
He outlined three possible styles which we might adopt:
- The Tennis approach – hitting back as hard as we can with added interest – pressing reply without thinking and with all guns blazing to tell the person criticising us why they are wrong in no uncertain terms
- The Kitchen Roll approach – absorbing all the criticism that comes our way without responding – just mopping it all up and, in the process, becoming “soggy” – drained and unable to deal with the problem any longer – finding ourselves assuming that anything we do is bound to be wrong and becoming increasingly demotivated
- The Sponge approach – this is a healthier version of the Kitchen Roll approach – absorbing and taking on board the criticism but then dealing with it – processing the criticism and learning from it after which we can become functional again
David highlighted that it can really help to understand why people criticise us and he suggested some reasons:
- Intellectual disagreement (perhaps lacking emotional awareness)
- Something irritates (e.g. value clash)
- Fear/Anxiety – people can be scared of change
- Feel unheard – a build-up of resentment can cause an outburst of criticism
- Feel better about ourselves by putting others down – highlighting the faults of everyone else because it is easier than processing and dealing with the criticism of ourselves
Looking at the origins of the word “criticism” it can be seen that evaluating, analysing and judging can be very positive processes and so David suggested that we should consider the idea of “Invited Criticism”, quoting from one of Solomon’s proverbs in support.
He did suggest that preparing your own solution to a problem before inviting criticism is probably not a wise approach – rather be open to suggestions and seek out the wisdom of experienced colleagues at an early stage of the process.
Uninvited Criticism, on the other hand, is what causes pain. David outlined the fact that we tend to respond emotionally rather than rationally to uninvited criticism and may interpret things in an overly negative manner.
Take time and reflect/analyse before we react.
Criticism is a form of attack and so our fight/flight responses are stimulated by the adrenaline we generate – it also focuses us on survival and hence we almost always think of all the worst possible case scenarios. That time out is
Some top tips:
- Provide regular opportunity for people to give “invited feedback”
- Seek out views and opinions with sincerity (not just to boost our self-esteem!)
- Use “If – Then” planning strategies – David used the work done by Pavlov in his well-known studies using dogs to describe the way our brains make associations – hence we can use this to our advantage by thinking through in advance our desired response to different expected situations – think about the “if” situation which worries us and rehearse the “then” response to cope with it
David then moved on to the area of conflict and conflict styles. He outlined 5 conflict modes which sit on axes of Assertiveness and Cooperativeness.
Each of us will probably have a favoured style although we can move from one to another.
He outlined the characteristics of each style and identified the positives and negatives with each. He highlighted the “Collaborating” style as being the “win-win” scenario and teased out some of the benefits of this style. Although it takes a longer time it is a much more powerful approach than the other styles.
Reiterating that criticism is a form of conflict, David suggested that it is useful to think about these conflict styles when preparing our response to criticism – are we:
David touched on a psychological cognitive behaviour model covering our responses in terms of thoughts, behaviours, emotional responses and physical symptoms and identified that in every case some sort of unspoken rule will have been activated.
These are rules we carry around in our head for life and they may be a problem when criticised – he gave an example of a rule:
e.g. “I must always make people happy” – The accommodating style?
But what happens if…
- Someone is upset by something I say?
- Someone disagrees with my decision?
- I accidentally offend someone?
- Someone is suffering from depression?
- Someone is grieving?
David concluded with tips for developing resilience:
- Look after your physical/mental health
- Challenge your initial interpretation
- Get advice from trusted friends/colleagues
- Invite constructive comments
- Be prepared with If – Then strategies
- Seek out Professional Coaching
A Question and Answer time followed the talk during which the following significant points were made by members of the audience and the speaker:
- When you are in conflict if someone is criticising you then depersonalise it if possible – the issue, rather than the person, is the problem.
- To deal with “avoiders” create a culture of feedback and conversation using non-threatening topics to make them comfortable.
- Ask early in any process for thoughts from others – this can give valuable ideas to move the project forward.
- Write things down – what is the issue, what am I feeling, what is the reality of the situation?
- Critical emails provoked a vigorous response – it was suggested that drafting a reply without the recipient’s name in the To: box allows you to put the topic to one side while allowing time to think.
- Also, where possible having your reply “vetted” by a trustworthy colleague can be helpful.
- With emails, if there is an escalation, then pick up the phone or, better still, converse face to face – David mentioned a “traffic light” system for emails – this is available using the icon below
- The dangers of Facebook and similar social media, where comments go far and wide.
- The benefits of tone of voice and body language.
We thanked David for what was an excellent and very helpful exploration of the topic.