Let’s say you meet a guy named Pete. As you begin to interact with him some of his actions begin to upset you. You say, “Pete, since we met you have yelled at me twice and called me stupid.” Pete responds to your criticism by smashing his elbow right into your cheek.
Do you think you would like Pete? Would you respect Pete for acting this way? Would you want to be friends with him?
To find out how people feel about different styles of responding to criticism, I made a lot of TV shows with a variety of actors.
In each show the actors respond to criticism in different ways. Then I asked others to watch the shows. Together, we discussed their reactions to the way the people in the video recordings handle the criticism.
I soon became very familiar with what people like and respect when it comes to responding to criticism. This helped me to come up with four different ways to handle criticism. I put them in order from the least respected to the most respected. Level one is the least liked. Each higher level is viewed as more mature, likable, and respected by those who watched the video recordings. Let’s take a look at these four levels.
Four Levels of Responding to Criticism
1. This level requires displaying one or more of the following:
- Weeps or sobs with tears or pouts
- Physically attacks the criticizer
- Damages property
2. This level requires displaying one or more of the following:
- Insults the criticizer (either with words, hand gestures, the sticking out of a tongue, the rolling of the eyes, or smirks)
- Glares at the criticizer
- Threatens the criticizer
- Punches, kicks, or throws an object without physically hurting someone or damaging anything
- Criticizes the criticizer without first fully addressing the original criticism.
3. This level requires displaying one or both of the following:
- Displays defensiveness without directly insulting the criticizer (raising voice’s volume or pitch)
- Displays a lack of interest either by verbally indicating this, or with nonverbal cues, or complete silence.
4. Level 4 individuals listen to the criticizer in a supportive, warm, friendly style, and then make it clear that they fully understand what was said. Moreover, they put the criticizer at ease by making statements that indicate that the wise learn from criticism. Some time is spent on showing that they are thinking about the criticism. If, after thinking about the criticism the criticism is deemed to be correct, they make a statement frankly indicating, “I can see your ideas have merit and I intend to use them in the future.” If they are not sure if they agree, they make a statement indicating that they are very interested in what was said, plan to think a little more about this over the next few days and then they will be ready to discuss this further. If, after thinking about the criticism, the criticism is deemed to be incorrect, a statement is made designed to disagree without being disagreeable. More specifically, a sense of humor, some listening in a caring way and a few smiles help to traverse rough terrain. As the episode winds down, the criticizer is encouraged to feel comfortable communicating suggestions in the future.
People who viewed the responses to criticism video recordings differed in age (from ten to senior citizens) and the region of the country that they lived (mid-west, east coast, inner city, suburb or small town). Regardless of their age and where they lived they rated people who displayed responses to criticism in a style consistent with the higher levels as more likable, respected and mature.
Why are higher levels of responding to criticism viewed as more likable, respected and mature? Is there a higher level than the level 4 description? In addition to different levels of maturity in responding to criticism, are there different levels of maturity when it comes to how one goes about providing criticism? What do we really mean by different levels of maturity? We take up these questions soon in coming posts.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.