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RESPONDING TO CRITICISM: GETTING FAMILIAR WITH THE MOST MATURE LEVEL

The Parable of Ed and Lori

Ed has been dating Lori for a little over a month. One day he invites her to have dinner at his favorite restaurant.

“Ed,” she replies with a smile, “I’d like to pick the restaurant this time. You picked last time.”

Ed thinks to himself that the one time he agreed to Lori picking the restaurant, she picked spicy Indian food that upset his stomach.

Illustration by Eric Sailer

Ever since, he has been reluctant to give Lori any say where they go.  But, because he has been following this blog, Ed recognizes that Lori’s request contained a note of criticism.

Having had trouble maintaining lasting relationships with women because of the way he has been handling criticism, Ed has begun to work on making some improvements.  Using what he learned on this blog’s two recent posts (see Responding to Criticism: Four Levels of Maturity and Responding to Criticism: The Most Mature Level) he has rehearsed in his mind not getting defensive whenever he is criticized and, instead, responding at the most mature level.  Ed realizes this is an excellent opportunity to try out some of what he has been practicing.

First, Ed shows Lori that he has really listened to what she had to say by taking a few seconds to think about what she has said.  Then, he summarizes her position by using the DIG conflict model.  The word DIG reminds him to look for Lori’s DESIRE, what she views as INTERFERING with her desire, and what she thinks he is GUILTY of doing wrong. This leads him to summarize her position as follows:

“Lori, I think I understand how you feel.  You desire that we take turns picking the restaurants that we go to.  I’ve been interfering with this because ever since you picked the Indian restaurant I’ve been insisting on choosing where we go.  You feel that I’m guilty of being unfair.  Is that right?”

“Yes,” says Lori. “Well said.”

Ed now checks his level of frustration.  He knows that if it is high he would be wise to tell Lori he wants to take a few days to think over what she has said.  But he finds that he is pretty calm and Lori doesn’t look like she’s about to freak out either.  So, after a little more thought, Ed gets ready to disagree with Lori without being disagreeable.  But he first pauses to see if he can come up with a way to steer in her direction.  Suddenly an idea comes to him.

“I’ll tell you what,” he says with a smile, “see if you’re willing to give this a try.  Every other time we go out why don’t you come up with three places that you’d like to go?  Then I’ll try to pick one of them.  Then, when it’s my turn to pick, I’ll let you know three places I’d like to go, and if you like any of them, you can choose from those three.  Surely we can come up with a place we both like if we do it like this. It’ll be fun.”

“What if I don’t like any of the three you pick?” Lori asks.

“I’ll come up with another three that you can pick from,” Ed responds.

“OK,” says Lori.

Why does learning to steer in the direction of someone’s criticism tend to enhance your reputation?

In focus groups that discussed the above parable, people felt that if Ed insisted on choosing the restaurant without giving Lori some say, he would come across as rigid, bossy and a jerk.  By offering to give some choices to Lori, Ed would come across as more flexible, reasonable and likable.

To understand why people have this reaction, it will be valuable to contrast what it feels like when we feel like pawns and origins.  

When people feel like pawns, they feel pushed around, and they feel that they are like puppets with someone else pulling the strings.

Illustration by Deanna Martinez

Feeling like a pawn may be contrasted with feeling like I have an influence over what I do—that I have played at least a part in originating what is happening and how I wish to act. Such a feeling is called, “feeling like an origin.”

People who perceive themselves powerless often experience alienation or reactance against those perceived as inflexible. They become angrier and angrier, and eventually a number of negative things happen to the relationship. Learning to steer prevents these negative things from happening.

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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.

RESPONDING TO CRITICISM: THE MOST MATURE LEVEL
PSYCHOLOGICAL MATURITY: WHAT IS IT?

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.

2 Comments

  1. I would say to Tina that spicy foods upset my stomach and that I suffered from diaria for 3 days…. I think she will choose better restaurants next time….

    • Hi Alain Bos,
      I think your reply to Tina makes perfectly good sense. I think a simple response like yours is better than what I came up with. I was just trying to illustrate what steering is like and I think I got carried away, and offered an unnecessary convoluted solution for this example. In real life, I would have personally said to Tina that “Sure, you can pick the next restaurant, that’s fair, but just I’m hoping it’s not Indian food or some other restaurant where it is difficult to order anything other than very spicy food. That stuff really upsets my stomach.” Much thanks for your comment, Alain.

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