Over the past few weeks, I have been discussing responding to criticism.
To become a master at responding to criticism we have to learn to figure out the reason why someone is criticizing us because different reasons require a different type of response. So far, we discussed four different reasons and how to respond to them:
- Criticism designed to encourage you to improve (see RESPONDING TO CRITICISM: FOUR LEVELS OF MATURITY and RESPONDING TO CRITICISM: THE MOST MATURE LEVEL)
- Playful teasing (see MAKING THE BUS MONITOR CRY: RATING HER RESPONSE)
- The desire to form a bond with a group by putting down non-group members (see MAKING THE BUS MONITOR CRY: WHY THE BOYS DID IT)
- Jealousy (see BEING CRITICIZED BECAUSE OF JEALOUSY)
Today we will focus on dealing with criticism that occurs because the criticizer is dealing with an overload of stress.
Consider the following parable.
Bella in the Restaurant
Bella goes to her favorite Italian Restaurant on her first date with Gino. Checking the menu, she starts having a desire for chicken parmigiana. When she orders, the waiter says, “I think we might be out of chicken, but I know we have excellent eggplant parmigiana. I’ll be right back and let you know.”
Although Bella would prefer chicken parmigiana and thinks the manager is guilty of being wrong for not having enough chicken on hand, the eggplant parmigiana is something she would enjoy. She feels a mild annoyance about this because she might not get exactly what she wants. Although she is experiencing a conflict with the manager, she shrugs her shoulders and begins to discuss her day with the cute guy she came with.
Now, although Bella, on this day did not get angry, if she had experienced more than her usual amount of stress earlier in the day, even if the stress had absolutely nothing to do with what happened at the restaurant, the mild additional stress that she experienced at the restaurant when she learned it did not have the dinner she was hoping for could lead to a full anger episode.
Here we see Bella throwing over a table, but she might instead express her anger by taking it out on the boy she is with, or even you if you happened to be with her. You might do something and find Bella launching one criticism after another at you.
When people get hot, are around a lot of noise, or have met up with one too many hassles, they oftentimes become irritable. At such times they are more likely to say insulting things, to start shouting, or to put on a nasty looking face.
Now let’s say that you are not sure why Bella is criticizing you. At first you respond as if Bella is simply criticizing you to encourage you to make some improvement. Thus, your responses are beautifully consistent with level four and even level five on the five levels of maturity scale (see RESPONDING TO CRITICISM: FOUR LEVELS OF MATURITY and RESPONDING TO CRITICISM: THE MOST MATURE LEVEL). But then you see that Bella is being far more critical of you than she usually is. You begin to go down the list in your mind of other reasons people provide criticism besides encouraging improvement.
You begin to wonder if she is playfully teasing? She doesn’t look like she has a little twinkle in her eyes that suggests her usual playfulness. Instead she looks very, very, serious.
Hmmm. You consider another possibility. Perhaps she has a desire to form a bond with a group by putting down non-group members. But there is no one else around that she knows. In this setting at the restaurant this just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Is she jealous of you? This may be a possibility. Perhaps she thought of something about you that made her jealous. You therefore apply the skills that you learned to use in the post titled BEING CRITICIZED BECAUSE OF JEALOUSY.
Despite your efforts, Bella continues to be hypercritical of you. Now what might be a helpful way to respond?
If you find that Bella begins to insult you for no apparent reason or for something so trivial that it is hard to believe she is so worked up about it, you might feel puzzled. You might feel that you’ve been mistreated and begin to insult her back. If she’s already in a crabby mood, do you think returning insults will be helpful?
If someone starts to insult you in a manner that doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, one useful thing to say to yourself is, “Maybe the insults don’t have much to do with me. Maybe the insulter has become overly stressed out.”
To test your theory it may be helpful to softly ask, “Is everything all right, Bella?” Then, some empathic listening may be all that is needed.
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.