Over recent weeks we have been pursuing an answer to these questions (see for example, Responding to Criticism: Four Levels of Maturity and Responding to Criticism: The Most Mature Level). During this pursuit, I put forth a tentative proposal for a most mature level because I think that’s a good way to get into these types of questions. Not only have I described what I think is the most mature level, I have presented arguments against this most mature level and arguments for it.
When I have taught these types of lessons in a classroom setting, despite all that I have already said on this topic, many of my students continue to raise some additional questions. And so, in this post I will try to clarify some points of confusion that have been brought to my attention by my students over the years.
Clarifying the Difference Between a Pawn and an Origin.
Responding to criticism at the most mature level requires that we seek to lead the criticizer to feel more like an origin than a pawn.
When people feel like pawns, they feel pushed around, and they feel that they are like puppets with someone else pulling the strings. Somewhere in our hearts and minds we realize that bossy people create a revolt against perceived illegitimate power. Calvin’s father, in the following comic, begins to realize this.
When you respond to criticism at the most mature level, you seek to come across as “not being bossy.” By trying to come up with some way to steer in the direction of the criticism, you come across as showing that you can be influenced by the person who is criticizing you.
Providing More Examples of Steering
After explaining a little more about the difference between feeling like a pawn and feeling like an origin, many of my students ask me to provide some more examples of people using steering.
In the DeCharms study I discussed earlier (Pawns in The Classroom), teachers who had learned to steer put fifteen minutes aside once a week to ask students to criticize how things are going during the week. The teachers in the study didn’t actually use the word “criticize.” The students were asked to provide “suggestions.” Suggestions, as we have discussed are, in a sense, criticism because people only make suggestions when they first make some sort of evaluation of what they perceive. Based on the evaluation, they then declare what they think might be an improvement.
The teachers were taught to listen to the student suggestions in a manner very similar to the description of level four on the five levels rating system. However, when teachers who use steering feel a suggestion does not make sense they do not merely attempt to disagree without being disagreeable. Instead, they try to use some aspect of the suggestion so the student feels the suggestion has been taken seriously.
For example, let’s say a student suggests that if the class works hard all day, the last hour should be free time. Suppose the teacher, let’s call her Mrs. Jones, feels that a daily hour of free time would waste too much learning time. Mrs. Jones can still steer in the direction of the suggestion. That is, she can explain her concern about wasting too much time; then she can propose that if by the end of the week the students had done a spectacular job all week long, the last hour on Fridays they will be given the freedom to choose either to get a head start on homework, write in their journal, or read a library book; then, after proposing this, Mrs. Jones asks the class if they want to give this a try. Notice that she is using the student’s suggestion of free time to influence where she steers the activities for the week.
Steering frequently ends up with the criticized person offering some type of choice to the criticizer. But there is a difference between providing a choice using a steering model and offering a choice in general. Consider a teacher who offers a choice to a student by saying, “Either you do the assignment or fail the course. Those are your choices.” This is not an example of steering. Nor is this—a teacher says, “I’m giving you a choice between playing ‘Math Blaster’ or ‘Race to the Moon.’ Hurry up and pick one, I don’t have all day!”
A teacher who is using steering would be more likely to say something like, “Here are two games that teach some math skills. Which one do you think would be best for you?” Notice the difference in attitude between the approaches. In the first two examples, the choice may not be perceived as a genuine choice but more of a demand to pick either one or the other. In the Peanuts comic below, we get a sense of how strong a reaction can occur when a child comes to believe the choice he or she is given is not really genuine.
Here’s an example involving a father and his son.
In the For better or for Worse comic, Michael criticizes his father’s decision that it’s time to go to bed. The father, no doubt, disagrees with his son’s criticism. Yet, rather than just saying his son is wrong, he seeks instead to come up with a way that utilizes some aspect of his son’s criticism to come up with a new alternative.
I think that the father, by asking his son to ask EVERY kid in town about bedtimes was unreasonable, but I trust that you get the point I’m trying to make in this example.
In the Luann comic below, Knute’s effort to work out what to do on his upcoming date with Crystal is evident.
Knute’s effort to find something to do that they will both like probably will be far more helpful in establishing a relationship with Crystal than if he insists on taking her to a monster truck rally.
Now, some people confuse steering with compromise. Steering can involve a compromise, but oftentimes it leads to something better than a compromise. The classic example of a compromise occurs when someone wants to buy something, let’s say a used car. The car dealership wants ten thousand dollars for the car, but the buyer wants to pay only five thousand dollars for it. In the end, they settle on $7,500. Both parties don’t end up getting quite what they had hoped, but they settle so they can close the deal. Both parties may walk away a little disappointed.
Oftentimes, when steering occurs, neither party is disappointed.
Steering envisions that the person criticized makes an effort to see if there is some way out of the conflict, a way where two opposing views can be reframed into an original and larger context that provides new values to both parties. This may be difficult and at times not always possible or desirable, but as we move along, I hope to show that it is possible far more often than commonly believed.
Rudyard Kipling’s Poem, If
Back in 1897, Rudyard Kipling wrote one of his most famous poems—If. Relevant to our discussion is the part that says:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise…
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
When someone is blaming, doubting, hating, or lying about you, they very likely are criticizing you and in a rather unflattering manner. How would it be best to respond to this?
Among the things Mr. Kipling encourages you to do is to keep your head even when others are losing theirs—admittedly, not always an easy thing to do. He urges you to trust yourself when all doubt you and make allowance for their doubting too. I’m not sure I completely agree with this, for spending some time in doubt seems to prod me, at times, to consider some important alternatives—but I think I have some sense of what he was trying to get at here.
Although I’m tempted to analyze Kipling’s poetry with a fine tooth comb, the thing about poetry is that the poet seeks to capture more than what can be analyzed. With just the right mixture of words and phrasing, Kipling strove to capture a certain subtle emotion and attitude.
I present the poem for your consideration in hopes that you will see that there is something in it that captures the emotion and attitude of the two highest levels of the five levels rating system. If you read the poem a couple of times and then the description of the two highest levels, you may find, when taken together, that they share a truth beyond words.
Well, that’s today’s lesson. I hope you enjoyed 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.