Anger & Criticism Part Two: Types of Criticism

Constructive criticism, a standard component in human interactions, generates a lot of undue anxiety for both the giver and the receiver. Even if the giver offers their assessment objectively and with kind understanding, the criticism is seldom well received. A sensitive person knows that pointing out another’s deficiencies can be threatening to the receiver’s self-esteem, and in turn, damaging to their relationship. In fact, based on the general reaction to criticism, it is safe to conclude that there is actually no such thing as constructive criticism.  It is all destructive.  The receiver feels attacked and the giver feels unappreciated.

There are two kinds of criticism. The first type of criticism is designed to draw your attention to something the other person believes is being handled in an ineffective manner. It is called valid criticism because, in the other person’s eyes, it is legitimate, constructive and justified. It is, however, just the other person’s opinion.  That is the kind of criticism you supposedly get at work from your boss.

The second type of criticism is unfounded criticism because it has no basis in truth. It is often referred to as manipulative criticism because it is designed by the critic purposely to make the other person (you) feel extremely angry, guilty or totally demoralized. Here is an illustration of the difference between these two forms of criticism.

Let’s suppose you have just given your boss a report which has taken a week of hard work to put together. Your boss could say, “Barbara, I’ve read over you report. I am concerned about the lack of consistency between the research you utilized and the conclusions you drew from those studies. Please rework that last section of the report so that your conclusions and the research support one another. If you need to, utilize different research sources.”

Suppose, however, that your boss wanted to make you feel dumb and inept. He might say, “What the devil is the matter with you anyway?  Can’t you do anything right?  When are you going to learn that slipshod is not the way we do things around here?”

If the boss wanted you to feel guilty, (also a form of manipulative criticism) he might say, “Barbara, I’m really disappointed in you. Every time I give you an important assignment, you let me down.”

In the first instance, you know exactly what is troubling the boss about your work and you also know what needs to be done to fix it. In the second and third instance, not only do you have no idea what’s wrong, you are left feeling disrespected, angry and/or guilty.

Here are some basic ideas for handling valid criticism ( or constructive criticism).

While the critic is speaking:

●do not interrupt – listen;

●refrain from sending negative body language messages;

●concentrate on the substance of the message – the main ideas;

●stifle your anger and resist becoming defensive;

●avoid the urge to justify yourself;

●do not pass the buck by blaming others;

●if you do not understand what is being communicated, say, “Could you

say that in another way please?”

●do not argue with the other person; hear them out; and

●show some receptiveness by expressing interest in learning more.

Once you feel that you have learned as much as you can about what is bothering the other person, then and only then should you move on to responding to their criticism. The key to dealing substantively and seriously with another person’s criticism is to ask open-ended questions.  Here is an example.

You are the mother of three young children who holds down a full-time job.  Your little family requires two incomes just to make ends meet.  Your husband has no problem with you working full time but your mother-in-law is a whole other story.

Mom: I hope you’re aware that your children are not getting the supportive,

nurturing home life that they deserve with you away all day at that job of

yours.

You:    What do you mean?

Mom:  You are shirking your responsibilities as a parent leaving those children

with total strangers each day.

You:    How did you come to the conclusion that I leave my children with strangers?

Mom:  Daycare is not the same as family.  Those so called babysitters, licensed though they may be, are still strangers.

You:    What else besides the fact that I leave the children in daycare has you concerned?

Mom:  You don’t need to work.  Riley brings home enough money to support his little family. You just want all the trimmings of an affluent life.

You:    Affluent life?

Mom:  Yes. You really don’t need such a nice house. You could have bought a smaller home in a working class neighborhood. Now you are saddled with all kinds of unnecessary debt.

You:    What else concerns you about the way we live?

Mom:  Working the way you do reflects badly on Riley like he can’t support his family without his wife’s help.  He’s never said anything to me but I am certain he’s not happy about you working.

You:    So, you think I should stop working, sell this house and move the family to a working class neighborhood?

Mom:  Yes.  Cut your living expenses so you can stay home and live on what Riley earns.  That way you can take proper care of your children.

You:    What about the kids’ future?

Mom:  The future?

You:    Yes.  Like making sure they go to good grade and high schools that will provide them with adequate preparation for college and saving for their college education?

Mom:  Well, Shirley certainly doesn’t need to go to college.  She just needs to

find a good man and get married.

You:    And what about Ken and Doug?

Mom:  Junior college was good enough for Riley; it should be good enough for

his sons.

The strategy is to keep questioning Mom until you have all her criticisms and concerns on the table, then….

●Summarize your understanding of the problem by saying, “As I understand it, you are concerned about ______ and you would like me to _______.   Is that correct?”

●Keep talking and questioning until the other person confirms that you fully understand their message.

●Say you appreciate their opinion, critical though it might be.

●If you agree that the other person is correct, say so.

●If you believe that the criticism is unwarranted and/or inaccurate, say so.

●If you believe that the criticism may be unwarranted and/or inaccurate, say so but assure the other person you will think about it.

●Establish some follow-up activity (I will discuss what you have suggested with Riley and get back to you by E-mail tomorrow.)  This is the only way for the other person to know that you sincerely value their input.

Next week’s blog will discuss how to handle manipulative criticism.

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