How to Get the Maximum When Being Criticized

published in: Leadership skills

17 Feb


Good leaders need to be able “to hear” and to learn from criticism. Otherwise they would build their own world, whose connections with the real world will slowly but surely get thinner as the years pass by. We would not want to fall into the situation of a country manager of a multinational company for whom his bosses and employees used to say he has broken his correlations with the real world several months before he got fired. When somebody is flying too high, the eventual drop down is very painful.
The way we approach criticism determines our level of realism and the quality of our relationships with others, particularly with our supervisor.
Most people react impulsively to the criticism they get. Let's look in the mirror and around us in search of the four most common types of behavior when we are being criticized:

Behavior 1: "full denial”.
With this defensive response we are trying to deny in full the remarks we got. Our conduct further escalates the hidden tensions and leads to emotional alienation. We must not forget that when someone criticizes us, he usually wants mostly to be heard, and his comments to be taken seriously.

Conduct 2: “ignore it”.

We may try to avoid criticism by changing the subject, refusing to discuss it, pretending that we do understand it or walk away. But thus we do not solve the problem. Moreover, we demonstrate complete disregard for the feelings and opinions of the other person. With this approach, we risk destroying the existing respect between the parties.

being criticized, manager
Behavior 3: "counterattack”.

The desire to protect ourselves may cause us to reply to the criticism with reciprocal power. For, addressing criticism with criticism is a great temptation (one of my sins). The man that criticizes us has his own weaknesses and vulnerabilities that we could successfully counter-attack.  Besides, we have the universal justification "he started this." Although it carries instantaneous gratification, "snarling" damages the good interpersonal relationships. Counterattacking almost never assists to solving the real problems or achieving compromises. Instead, it often incites violent quarrels and spoils mutual respect. And if we are honest and noble – short afterward we lose part of our self-esteem.

Conduct 4: "justification".

Trying to justify ourselves we explain our behavior in details, while strongly downplaying its importance.  These excuses put us in a vulnerable and certainly losing position. The manager, who criticizes us, does receive neither recognition nor respect for his concerns and considerations. He even does not see the smallest sign that we have at least recorded the problem in our mind. Thus the manager is getting angrier with us and refutes each of our excuses. Not surprisingly, this type of behavior causes minor misunderstandings to grow as snowballs until they are turned into violent strives.  The defeated party pays with impaired self-confidence and pride, and the “winner” remains with a bitter "Pyrrhic" victory and self-esteem suffered.

A constructive alternative behavior when we get criticized - introduction

Obviously, the most common impulsive reactions to criticisms do not result in anything positive. So let’s examine a constructive alternative. Its deliberate and meaningful implementation will help us to make sure it is not necessary to take defensive position when other people tell us what they think about our mistakes (i.e., criticize us). Its implementation will demonstrate the power of the ancient wisdom "Turn away evil with good." Moreover, this alternative will provide us with precious opportunity to peep into the criticizer’s mind. And last but not least, its implementation will allow us to appease the people who criticize us, allowing them to feel and realize that we hear and take into account their opinion.

Constructive alternative - stage one:  more details

Usually people are directing their criticism in a summary and indefinite way. For example: "I do not like your work!", "You always make mistakes!", and „I'm not pleased!"  When asking for and getting more details, we are able to understand what specifically the other party objects against.  Clarifying the criticisms details is neither a shield nor weapon to attack with, but a means to achieve understanding.

It is neither difficult nor complicated to ask for more details. All we need to do is to ask questions using the six loyal friends of Rudyard Kipling: what and who, how and where, when and why. Here is a possible constructive response to the above examples: "What exactly you do not like in the way I work?", "Why do you feel I always make mistakes?" When criticizing, most people expect aggressive respond and thus they are ready to immediately take a defensive position. Therefore, we should be careful in our tone and no sarcasm please.

Constructive alternative - stage two:  agree to the right part

After we learned the details it is time for our response. There are numerous variations and nuances. However, all of them recognize that part of the criticism, which we consider to be true or probably true. Thus we show we hear the criticism and realize the problem existence, and we create an opportunity for the criticizer to respect us for our honesty and confession.  In this article we will examine only three variations:

1. Here's your ball.

The technique "Here’s your ball” is very useful when a customer criticizes our company:
Client: I heard that you do not meet the delivery deadlines.
We:     Yes, we had difficulties.  If you were me what would you do to solve the problem? (We agree to the problem but for the past and pass the ball.)
Client:  I would reorganize the warehouse and courier shifts, so that deliveries arrive on time!
We:     Right! We think just like you! And that's exactly what we did.

2. I'm right - you're right.

Director:  Your initiative to boost team morale with a picnic party proved to be unsuccessful?
Department Manager: There is certainly no positive result. The next time I will consult more colleagues for their preferences and ideas. (But he thinks: I did what I could; do not expect me to launch any other initiatives).
This technique allows us to avoid reaching the position "I'm right and you're wrong."

3. The problem is in the past.
Director: Your department is working quite sluggish.  You missed your deadlines.
Department Manager: You're right. For some time I had difficulty complying with the deadlines, but I’ve solved the problem and will be on the schedule in a month.

Any communication is an opportunity for strengthening or deterioration of the existing relationships. Those who want to be leaders are required to get the most out of any situation, even from those in which they have been criticized.
It is easy to be said, and hard to be done! But if we are afraid of difficulties, we should not aim at leadership positions, right?



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