Recently, I put up a post on this blog titled “RESPONDING TO CRITICISM: FOUR LEVELS OF MATURITY.”  After describing the four levels, I ended the post with the question, “Is there a higher level than level four?”  Today I shall propose a level five:

LEVEL FIVE.  In addition to actions consistent with level 4, people responding to criticism in a manner consistent with level 5 seek ways to use, whenever they disagree with the criticism, a technique known as steering in the direction the criticizer would prefer to go.  That is, rather than just disagreeing without being disagreeable, the criticized person seeks to find a new choice of action that creatively utilizes some aspect suggested from the criticism.  Steering cannot be incorporated into all situations, but it is an additional goal of the most mature individuals.

To better understand level five, let’s take a look at a parable:

The Parable of Mr. Rodriguez

Illustration by Lois Hubertz

Mr. Rodriguez tells his students that next month they are going on a field trip to a museum.  His class begins to criticize the trip. 

“Whenever we go on field trips we always go to boring places,” says Nick.

“Why can’t we pick a place to go on a field trip?” says Jody.

“How do the rest of you feel about this?” asks Mr. Rodriguez.

“We should go to an amusement park instead!” says one girl.

“I think we should see a new movie at the mall,” says a boy. 

Mr. Rodriguez thinks about this, and, at first, he says to himself, “The principal will never go along with letting the students pick a place to go on a field trip.”  But then he tries to come up with a way to steer in the direction of the students’ criticism. 

He comes up with an idea.  “Field trips are for learning,” he tells the class.  “I understand that you want to have some say as to what field trip we go on.  What if I ask the principal to select  three field trips she would be willing to approve, and then I ask you to choose one from the three she comes up with—would that be better?”

“Yes!” they reply.

When Mr. Rodriguez asks the principal, she declares that this is a great idea.  Then, the next time Mr. Rodriguez returns to his class, he says,

Illustration by Lois Hubertz

“Remember yesterday I said we were going to the museum?”

“Yeah,” says Nick.  “A field trip to the museum again!  That’s boring!”

“Well,” replies Mr. Rodriguez, “the principle says we can choose between the museum, the zoo, or the botanical gardens?”   

The students end up choosing the zoo.  Mr. Rodriguez is delighted with this because the principal had him going, every year, for the last ten years, to the museum and he has grown tired of it.  He’s never been to the zoo, and he and his students feel better having been given a choice. 

What We Can Learn From this Parable

Illustration by Lois Hubertz

The way Mr. Rodriguez handled his class’s criticism is an example of a level 5 response.  Although he didn’t completely agree with the students’ criticism, instead of completely rejecting it, he steered in the direction of the criticism.  That is, he took the students’ ideas about their choosing the place to go on the field trip, and used it in such a way that both he and the students ended up feeling better off with the end result.

It takes a bit of creativity to come up with these types of steering plans.  For those who regularly follow this blog, in coming weeks from time to time you will be provided fun activities to practice this skill and you will find yourself getting better and better at it.


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 intelligence.  To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.


About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.


  1. Thank you very much for your writings on criticism. In pondering over the five levels of maturity, I feel better prepared for what’s thrown my way. I notice that on an interpersonal level, like with family, I find myself on level 3. However, on a professional level, like with teaching dance to young kids, I am a solid level 5. I do believe that a combination of our degrees of fear and our skills and confidence/competence level — along with consciousness and a desire to mature — have a lot to do with the levels we find ourselves on. Again, thank you. Perfect timing.

  2. Hi Julie Gym,

    This morning when I read your comment, it was like a beautiful Christmas present. It’s always a great pleasure to hear from people like yourself who find value in this calling of mine to pass on some ideas that I’ve found helpful in my own life.

    You mentioned that you have sometimes observed yourself responding at a lower skills level with family than when you are acting in your professional role. I have had similar experiences. It took some work, but now I find that I am far more apt at catching myself beginning to sink lower than I care to, and I’m able to rally myself so that I end up at level 4 or 5.

    I’m thinking that if you write a little reminder on your refrigerator door with a description of the two higher levels, and take some time over the next few weeks to review them a couple of times per week and then think about how you might apply them in some recent real life events, you’ll see yourself making some desired improvements.

    Warm Regards, Jeff

    • I’m so glad you responded, Jeff. Thank you for your valuable suggestions. I think it would even be worth it to memorize all levels to stay sharp at a moment’s notice. I wanted to thank you so very much for the powerful impact your writing on these levels has had on my life and that of my family. Actually, the powerful and immediate impact. I think that largely due to your posts, my Christmas was amazing. There was a get together on my mother’s side for Christmas Eve and a get together with my father’s family on Christmas Day. In each there was a key moment where I could have gone in previous directions, but I remembered your levels and found myself solidly and confidently taking the higher level roads. I felt so proud of myself and am very grateful to you. After so many years of seeking, it’s so wonderful to come across keys to unlock confusion and fear. What a wonderful holiday season and lifetime gift you have given us.

  3. Hi Julie Gym. Your experience very closely matches my own. Once I became well practiced at providing higher level responses to criticism, I found my confidence dramatically increase whenever I dealt with these types of situations. Moreover, the reactions I got from others were so rewarding that it was easy to see the benefits, and that kept me continuing to improve. Once again, I’m very pleased to hear of your experience. Warmest Regards, Jeff

    January 26, 2014 - 5:15 pm

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    August 22, 2014 - 11:52 pm

  8. Hello Dr
    Have been following your posts for quite a while and would like to thank you for i sharing this knowlege. It has helped me a great deal.
    However I have a request. I have read a lot of matter on CBT but still find it difficult to apply it in situations. Could you perhaps ecplain the practical part of CBT…in the sense how do we help someone through CBT.
    I would be highly obliged if you could spare a few moments of your valuable time.
    Best wishes

  9. Hi Winona, Thanks for your kind words of support for the blog posts. They are much appreciated. With regards to your question, “Could you perhaps explain the practical part of CBT…in the sense how do we help someone through CBT?” The answer to your question can not be answered in a helpful manner in the form of a blog post reply. I suggest you begin at the following Wikipedia article: My best wishes to you for the new year.

  10. Killing People Because They Criticized Your Muslim Faith: Is It A Sign of Immaturity? | Name Calling, Insults and Teasing
    January 14, 2015 - 4:49 pm

  11. critizing sometimes becomes an habit to people doesnt even know anything. No wonder it is important to think before you act…

  12. I am struck by how effective your simplistic teaching style is Dr. Rubin. You have found a way to present what could otherwise by complex information in a way that anyone can grasp and immediately start using to develop their own skills with. It’s refreshingly inviting. I’m not sure why (they must be secretly criticizing me:) but I often get my back up in response to the manner in which some information is delivered. I am inspired to ask myself why now. I think this should be mandatory learning for all parents who could teach it to their children. I’m a fan.

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