Effective Communication – Responding to Criticism

Whether talking to your spouse, boss, a friend, or the clerk in the check-out line, conversations can become difficult and sometimes that difficulty is because of your actions. Sometimes we have to hear critical feedback from others. Responding to criticism can be difficult but it’s an opportunity to learn and grow, especially if  you approach it with a positive and constructive mindset. Here are some tips for responding to criticism:

1. Stay calm and avoid getting defensive

When someone gives you feedback, remain calm and avoid becoming defensive. Practice good relaxation and grounding techniques to keep your focus on the here and now: take some slow, deep breaths, keep your body relaxed and practice polyvagal techniques to keep from become too stressed. Listen carefully to the feedback, with the intention of  understanding the other person’s position. Prepare to repeat what you have heard to make sure you have the message clearly and correctly.

2. You may need to reframe the feedback

A challenge in giving and receiving feedback is the tendency to focus on the person or the personality and not the behavior or the result. For example, your spouse may tell you he or she needs more help around the house and you hear, “I’m irresponsible.” Someone may tell you your child they are sloppy when what you mean to tell them is they don’t pick up after themselves.

3. Find something you can agree with

Remember that when someone tells you about yourself, they are also telling you volumes about themselves. Take some time to consider the situation from the speaker’s standpoint. What are they really after? It generally has more to do with them than you. Ask yourself if there is any truth in what they say and find a way to agree with them. Long ago I read about a technique called “clouding.” Clouding means you find agreement in part, in principle, or in probability. For example, let’s say your spouse is angry and accusing you of picking fights with your father-in-law everytime you are together. Here are some ways you might be able to respond.

Agreeing in part:

Agreeing in part involves finding an aspect of what your partner has said that you can agree on. It also can help to focus on a triggering incident. “You’re right, last Sunday at dinner, I could have chosen to ignore his comments but instead I disagreed and we got into an argument.”

Agreeing in principle:

Agreeing in principle involves finding a point on which you both can agree, whether you do in this situation or not. “You’re right, not everyone who makes an outrageous statement deserves a response.”

Agreeing in probability:

Agreeing in probability means seeing the other person’s theoretical perspective. “You’re right, there is a chance if I don’t respond, he might drop the subject.”

You may find common ground on which to build an agreement betweent the two of you. At the very least, your partner has a greater chance of feeling heard and understood.

4. Thank the person for their feedback

Expressing gratitude for the feedback shows that you value their input, even if you don’t agree with everything they’ve said.

5. Ask for clarification

If the feedback is unclear or vague, it’s okay to ask for more information or examples to help you better understand the issue.

6. Respond appropriately

Depending on the situation, you may need to apologize, offer an explanation, or take action to address the issue.

Remember, responding to criticism can be an opportunity for growth and learning. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or seek out additional resources if necessary.