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Criticism continued (3)

Shifting from “I’m right” to “Point of view”

If you have a cherished belief that someone criticizes, you may react as if you, yourself, are being attacked. Even if you’re being criticized for a self-destructive habit, it may feel as if your identity is under attack. The more you react to criticism as an attack on your emotional survival, the more you will be blinded to the potential merits of the other person’s point of view. When we perceive criticism as an accusation or put-down, we often defend against it as if our lives were at stake.

 

If we give up insisting how right we are and try to listen receptively, we allow the other person to be right as well. “What you resist persists”—the more you insist how wrong the other person is, the more he will persist in trying to prove how right he is. Focusing on “point of view” means learning that at any given moment each of us is right from his or her own perspective. When it comes to feelings, no one is wrong. When we are listening receptively, our intention is that the other person feels more relaxed, appreciated, and understood.

 

Staying Calm

Most people feel tense and defensive under criticism. As soon as you notice your temperature rising and muscles tightening, the best thing to do is to stop and regain your sense of personal safety. Inhale and exhale deeply a few times; sit quietly for a few moments. When you take those those moments to regain your composure, the criticism almost always seems more benign.

 

Often we criticize in others the things we can’t accept in ourselves. In essence we are saying, “How can I possibly tolerate in you what I criticize myself for all the time?”

 

If you find yourself getting defensive when a loved one or an associate is criticizing you, ask for a 20-minute timeout. Your purpose is not to avoid a necessary discussion, but rather to take some time to reflect and regain your composure. You might want to say, “I’m not at my best right now. Let me take a few minutes for myself so that I can hear you better.” In some cases you may want to think about the criticism overnight or until your next meeting. You have the right to say, “Thanks for your suggestions. Let me give them some thought, and I’ll tell you what I need to put into action.” Since criticism often challenges some of our most cherished beliefs about ourselves, it is natural that you will need time to digest and integrate the other person’s suggestions or counsel.

 

Learning to Favor the Positive

One of the best ways to deal with a “critical spirit” is to remember that, whether at work or at home, criticism is always more effective when coupled with praise and support. It’s far more valuable to catch your spouse, children, co-workers, and especially yourself doing something right than to catch them doing something wrong. Consider the following guidelines:

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