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PROVIDING NEGATIVE CRITICISM: A LUANN COMIC STRIP LESSON

In last week’s post, I presented a lesson on responding to negative criticism that utilized a Luann comic strip.  It was so popular that I decided to once again have Luann help us out; but this time, rather than focusing on the most mature ways to respond to negative criticism, let’s focus on the most mature ways to provide negative criticism.  For those of you who are new to this blog, you may want to first review a couple of my earlier posts that introduce some key ideas (see PROVIDING NEGATIVE CRITICISM: FIVE LEVELS OF MATURITY and PROVIDING NEGATIVE CRITICISM: DEFENDING THE FIVE LEVELS OF MATURITY.)

First Example

Let’s begin by first taking another look at the same Luann comic that we used last week.

Luann1Luann2

Last week we mentioned that in the above comic Luann appears to have become a little defensive at Bernice’s criticism.  We went on from there to answer the question, “What could Luann do differently to better match a more mature response?”

Now, if you will, think about Bernice’s style of providing negative criticism to Luann.  Is there anything that she could have done differently that would have led you to think she is more mature than how she comes across in the comic strip?

My Answer

Here’s my approach to answering this question. For the most part, Bernice’s actions seem to me to best match the level 4 description—The criticizer states the criticism without bodily attacks, damaging property, insults, threats, or shouts, and with enough details so that the criticized person, if he or she wills, can improve the behavior, idea, or appearance.  If the person receiving the criticism becomes defensive or angry, the criticizer empathizes without returning insults, threats, or shouts.

Luann3The first time Bernice speaks, she provides the same negative criticism to Luann that Luann had provided to herself—“You should drop 10 pounds and grow your bust line.”  This can seem insulting, but Bernice was invited by Luann to give her an opinion and I’m not sure Bernice means it as an insult.

Nevertheless, Luann does become a little defensive as a result of Bernice’s comment, leaning over and with her mouth depicted as open wide, she appears to be shouting.  Luann1 If Bernice was to earn full credit for being at level 4, she would show some empathy at this point.

What exactly would  “show some empathy” look like in this situation?  There are a number of styles for this, but here’s one approach for your consideration.

“Luann,” says Bernice, “I know you agreed to wear this outfit in front of a lot of people and you’re worried about how you’re going to look.  Are you OK?”

Then, Bernice listens in a caring manner without interrupting Luann.  Once Luann clearly finishes what she has to say, Bernice summarizes Luann’s comments.  Then she says, “Luann, regardless of whether you decide to wear this costume or not, I, for one, am going to still like you.  I consider you my dearest friend.”

If Bernice would have responded in this manner, I think Luann would have very much appreciated it.

Overall, I think that Bernice, in the comic, does not intend to insult her friend but instead intends to provide her some honest feedback.  Although level 4 does not quite match all that I observed in Bernice’s style of providing criticism, it is a better match than level 3 which requires an obvious attempt at providing an insult.

male criticismIn rating Bernice’s style of providing criticism to Luann, I gave Bernice 4 points because her actions best matched the level 4 description.  I then subtracted .2 because of her lack of empathy, and her final response about the skimpy outfit had her coming off as slightly insulting. Thus I gave Bernice’s style of providing criticism a 3.8.

Now, this type of rating system, it is important to note, is designed for those people who are providing negative criticism because they hope to encourage some improvement.  In the above comic, it seems to me that the improvement that Bernice is pulling for is to get Luann to change her mind about wearing the demeaning costume. But, perhaps I’m wrong.  There are other reasons why people provide negative criticism besides seeking to encourage some improvement.

In my post, INSULTS: A COMIC STRIP LOVER’S GUIDE, I provide readers a list of eight major reasons why people provide negative criticism.  In the above comic strip, rather than trying to encourage Luann to make some improvement, Bernice may, instead, have been feeling jealous.  After all, Luann had been asked to wear the costume by someone who is going to put on a big Zeye promotion.  Nobody asks Bernice to wear the costume.

Illustration by Eric Sailer

Illustration by Eric Sailer

If jealousy was  the motivation for Bernice’s negative criticism, then my advice to her would be different than if I thought she was motivated to help Luann to make some improvement.  I think I would have suggested that she consider waiting at least a week before providing any negative criticism, thus giving her some time to find a way to sail out of the stormy region of anger on the great sea of conflict.

Second Example

Let’s continue with Luann’s costume story.  Despite Bernice’s comments, Luann decides to go ahead and wear the Zeye outfit at one of the stores in the local mall to promote Zeye Games. Tiffany arrives at the promotion with this cute guy, Quill.  Tiffany and Luann are both very much attracted to him.  In the comic below, you’ll notice that Tiffany begins to provide some negative criticism to Luann.  What rating do you think she deserves?

Luannzeya1

NAME 8

My Answer

When I first read the comic I thought Tiffany’s actions best matched the level 3 description— The criticizer clearly states the criticism with enough detail so the criticized person, if he or she wills, can improve the behavior, idea, or appearance, but couples it with glares, insults, shouts, or threats that are not about bodily harm. The comments Tiffany makes to Luann in front of Quill, are obviously designed to be insulting.  For example, when Tiffany says, “…I’ve grown past wearing cheesy outfits,” her clear intent is to indicate that she thinks Luann is not as mature as she.
Luannzeya2
Tiffany’s comments are even more insulting because she is saying it in front of Quill.

As I mentioned above, those of us who had been following the Luann comic strip during the period of time these particular comics appeared, learned that Quill has shown some interest in Luann, and Tiffany is jealous.  As I interpret Tiffany’s negative criticism of Luann, it is not really about the cheesy outfit and how Luann looks in it—it’s about her jealousy.

But, for educational reasons, let’s say Tiffany, in this situation really did want to provide some helpful negative criticism to Luann.  What actions would Tiffany have had to carry out under this set of circumstances in order for her to match the highest level of maturity–level 5?

5.  When the criticizer provides criticism, he or she does so in a manner very similar to a level four response, but beforehand, the criticizer considers the person who is the target of the criticism, and the situation that he or she is in.  As a result of such considerations, the criticizer may decide to alter the criticism.

To match this level of maturity, Tiffany, as she begins to feel the desire to provide negative criticism with the intention to encourage improvement, she would start to consider situational and personal variables that are present.  In doing so, she would realize that to negatively criticize Luann in front of Quill could very likely come off as immature, especially if Quill is mature enough to recognize what is obvious to most of the readers of the Luann comic.  She would have had to say to herself, “If I put down Luann in front of Quill, there’s a good chance Quill will see that I’m being mean and that I’m the type of person who does mean things when I get jealous.  If I really think Luann would be better off not wearing the Zeye costume and I really cared about her, I’d ask to speak to her about this in private.”

Third Example

Let’s try one more for now.  Please see what level of providing criticism best matches Quill’s effort to provide Luann a singing tip.

Luannsing1Luannsing2Luannsing3

My Answer 

Quill begins his negative criticism with some positive criticism.  I like that.  Before providing his negative criticism, he first asks Luann if he can give her a tip.  Nice!  After Luann agrees to hear it, Quill gives her very specific instructions that can really make a difference if she desires to utilize it.  Although some people are nearby, Quill appears to be presenting his criticism far enough away from the others so he and Luann have some privacy.  I think level 5 is the best match.

Well, that’s our Name Calling, Insults and Teasing lesson for today.  Have a great week.

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

RESPONDING TO CRITICISM: A LUANN COMIC STRIP LESSON
THE ABCs OF POWER: THE LETTER D

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.

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