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|Rules of Communication
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|“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing,
and being nothing.”
Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man's growth without destroying his roots."
- Frank A. Clark
Criticism can be a form of bullying. In case of incompetent bosses it is usually a form of bulling. Classic corporate form of such a form of negative criticism are performance reviews. See Surviving a Bad Performance Review. Try to accept negative criticism as calmly and dispassionately as possible. The more emotional we are, the more limited our thinking and questionable our reactions. Negative criticism that is form of bulling typically has one or more of the following features:
Theodore Roosevelt once said,
"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcomings, who knows the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the high achievement of triumph and who at worst, if he fails while daring greatly, knows his place shall never be with those timid and cold souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
No matter how well you do, there are some people who will not pat your back no matter what are you real or perceived accomplishments. In such cases it is best to pretend that you value their advice, say "thank you" and try to forget as soon as possible what they said. It does not make sense to a lot of soul searching in case of baseless criticism. It hurts, but that's it. Get over this episode of your professional life it and try to concentrate on your goals instead.Even when you ask for feedback youself and expect to be able to handle it - you may still be surprised by your own immediate reaction. Here are some points to consider when facing negative critisim from your boss:
If you suspect bulling ask yourself several questions. Among them:
Even constructive criticism can feel really uncomfortable. However, gentle feedback, which includes drawing out all of your strengths, allows you to learn something about yourself.
How to Deal How To Deal With Everything
Harsh words may be said. Insults might be made. People are people and you can't really control their tempers or the words they choose to use. What you can control however is how you receive their words. Maybe, all you need is a little toughening up to get going and begin to deal with all the negativity of these people. Just assure yourself of your worth and the value that you give to your company, and you'd do alright.
Keep a positive outlook
Nothing pisses off a harsh critic more than a positive response to his or her criticisms. Don't allow yourself to go down to their level and wallow in meanness and ill-feelings. You are better than that. Take everything in stride and move forward. There are other projects and other opportunities to improve yourself. Take what you can from their criticism and be better next time. But never ever let them get you down.
ArtBistro.comAs soon as your visit is over, take a few notes on what was said, while everything is still fresh in your mind. Strive for accuracy in these notes – don't accentuate the parts you want to remember (or are desperate to forget), just write down what factually took place. Think about how the visit unfolded, what happened first, and then what happened next, and record all of that. We have a tendency to dwell on certain moments and to exaggerate them in our mind; if you can get down a clear record of what actually happened, it will help you to follow up with the information you received in a positive way.
- Be Honest with Yourself
Once you have this information down, think back a little bit to the way you were feeling right before the critique. Ask yourself what your expectations for the visit were – and be really honest with yourself. Sometimes we set our sights so high that anything less than what we dreamed of sounds like a total disappointment. If you were determined to get a solo show out of a gallery director visiting your studio, you might be crushed if he or she simply concluded the visit with "Let's keep in touch." This is unreasonable – there are many very plausible reasons why someone might not jump on your work right away, and only one of those reasons is that they don't like it.
- Search for Constructive Criticism
When you come to the point where you feel as though you've recorded what happened accurately and really considered your expectations (and perhaps taken a break for a little while, if it was an especially difficult critique for you), it's time to really start to take the visit apart in your mind. Think about the substance of the conversation. Did the person give you constructive criticism, maybe even tossing in some concrete solutions to problems that they saw? If that's the case, acknowledge that while they didn't really connect to your work, at least they think you're up for improving it down the road – in fact, it sounds like they really want you to succeed, even if they don't feel like you're succeeding right now. This is the kind of criticism you should take very seriously, because it sounds like this person really has your best interest at heart.
- Take Some Things with a Grain of Salt
But were the things they suggested totally out of left field and not at all anything you would ever consider? In that case, maybe you and your visitor just have other things in mind for your work. You ought to respect their opinion but take it with a grain of salt and realize that the two of you may never see eye to eye. It can be an amazing experience for an abstract painter to get a critique from a photorealist painter, but only if they acknowledge and respect from the beginning that they both approach their practices very differently. You can learn a lot from these conversations, but that doesn't mean that you have to incorporate everything suggested into your work.
- They May Be Petty or Plain Mean
What about the worst-case scenario, that the person looking at your work became petty or just plain mean in their criticism? This sort of thing only happens very rarely – but the truth is, it does happen. If it does, you have to acknowledge that there is something else going on in the critique that may or may not have anything to do with your work. This sort of opinion really isn't going to be helpful to you and, as hard as it is, you're just going to have to let it go. Acknowledge that at the very least, you have learned a valuable lesson – not to spend your time trying to chase after that person anymore. As hard as it might be, you have to simply lick your wounds and get right back to work.
- Send Thank You When They're Due
If the visit went any way other than the very last scenario, it can be helpful to send a thank you note to the person who visited your studio. Doing so gives you some closure to the experience and allows you to take the high road and be a professional. Remember that even though they didn't especially like what you were up to, they did make time to come by and see you. Keep the door open as much as you possibly can.
- Reach Out to a Friend
Lastly, talk to a peer you respect about the situation. Share with them what happened and ask for their honest opinion. Don't be embarrassed to reach out to others about this – remember, this sort of experience happens to everyone sooner or later. But get some feedback and see if the critique you received has some merit, or if it's the kind of information you should simply disregard. Getting an outside opinion from someone you trust can be crucial to understanding what happened.
Above all, remember that the road before you as an artist is very, very long and a negative critique is only one of the many experiences you will face. Take it as a learning experience and not a setback. Take a deep breath, let it go, and then get back to making the work that you know in your heart you have to make.
This will happen if you make anything. I've written harsh criticism, and have received harsh criticism.
There are a few points, some ways of reacting that I've seen and some that I've done:
- You can leave the review alone. Don't comment, don't look, don't link to it, just walk away.
- You can thank the reviewer for taking the time to review. That's all. Just thank, say nothing else.
- You can engage with the reviewer on the points brought up. If you do this, start by thanking the reviewer.
The first one is easy, and with some particularly inflammatory reviews that's best. If they linked to you, they're helping your SEO ranking. You don't have to return that favor.
The second one is a personal favorite for dealing with trolls, but it's also good for just being charitable toward someone. And you look classy for it.
The third is dangerous ground. If the person on the other end is reasonable and respectful during the conversation, and you are as well, then it can be fruitful. But know that you're not just conversing with that person, but any onlookers who may chime in. And they might not be respectful of the attempt at civil discourse. Sometimes great fruit bears from that, other times it's a waste of your energy. Just be aware of that.
No matter what you do about it, once you can get some emotional distance away, look over the points. There may be wisdom there you can use in your next project or how you continue forward with this one. Sometimes it's something you can correct now, and sometimes it's just something you can do in future works.
...Let's call him Peter Smith, who felt the necessity to write (and rewrite and then write some more) the following comment to me on Linkedin:
"[...] It's shoddy work like yours that devalues the quality offered by the rest of us. No doubt, you don't charge a great deal either, but find that you have a group of clients who will put up with your woeful lack of attention to detail. They will then complain that they can get it done cheaper when someone who actually bothers to proof-read, gives them a quote that reflects the quality of their work.
As for the number of articles you write? As a magazine journalist I used to write around four or five articles a day (do the math), and my butt would get well and truly kicked out of the office if I produced such badly punctuated and spelled work as yours.
Maybe you should grab a copy of Webster's for bedtime reading."
Now though there is no actual truth pertaining to anything about me professionally within this comment, and although quite rude and unnecessary, this comment does not fall into the category of "unacceptable". It was his personal opinion and his right to free speech. So what should you do when you find yourself or your brand attacked in such a classless way online, for the world to see?
The first thing to realize is that the Peter Smiths of the world are the types of people who are relentlessly negative and aim to discredit and belittle others because it makes themselves feel good. Another thing about these types of people is that they enjoy this type of online bullying so much that they will, with pleasure, waste countless hours taking jabs at you.
So what should you do, how should you deal with these types of people?
The best way is to:
Step 1: Look them up. Find out who they are and what they do. Perhaps they're decent people having a bad day and whatever you did was just the straw that broke the camel's back. But then again, perhaps not. If you're unsure, attempt to apologize or take the approach of "aiming to build a relationship" and do what you feel is right in the name of that strategy. However, if it's a true Peter Smith, this will only come back and bite you (note: the comment above came after my attempt at apologizing for my lame typo).
Step 2: If step 1 is the case, walk away and don't let it get to you. Like I said, these types of people, or rather trolls, are relentless and they are NOT worth your time or energy. If you feel the need, you may delete the comment(s) and then move on. But note: with the amount of time on their hands, these types of trolls will go looking for the comment, realize that it was deleted and have even more to say (again, this was the case with my particular Peter Smith). If this happens, remember that they remain to not be worth your time or energy. Continue to walk away. Focus on the countless readers, fans, followers and clients that value what you provide them with. They are the only ones worth your time and energy.
Step 3: Learn your lesson. There's a lesson to be learnt with each experience – positive and negative. Take some time to reflect and learn the lessons presented to you so as not to repeat them. The lesson for me in this particular case was not to write and publish blog posts with tired eyes and under time restraints. The repercussions of something as small as a lame typo are not worth it!
So when you find yourself caught within this grey zone of negativity, remember the characteristics of the Peter Smiths of the world, remember your own company or organization's true values and don't feel the need to have the last word because you won't and it risks hurting your own reputation.
UPDATE: Tom Liacas, of socialdisruptions.com (a blog that I thoroughly enjoy, by the way!), sent me the following comment after reading this post, and I thought "what a great idea!" and wanted to share it with all of you. Tom wrote:
"Managing debates on controversial issues, our CMs have faced legions of trolls over the last 2 years… One tactic that we found effective for deterring truly offensive or aggressive material was to keep an online gallery of screenshots featuring banned comments and posts blurring out the authors' profiles. When people accused us of censorship, which trolls invariably did, we would invite them to view the gallery to show what kind of stuff was dropped from the page. Trolls are shamed when their vitriol is framed and held up for others to see."
So the moral of the story: get creative rather than succumb to their uncalled for negativity!
As a young scientist you are probably intimately familiar with criticism! We face criticism when our assignments are graded; we are criticized when we give talks; we receive criticism when our papers come back from review. ... And, oh yes, who can forget that most joyous 3 hours of criticism we experience when we defend our theses? "Joy" is not the first word most of us would associate with criticism!
I used to find criticism hard to take and even harder to dish out. When I received criticism, I couldn't help thinking that I had failed to live up to some expectation or was deficient in some way. And when I had to criticize others, I was concerned about hurting feelings, straining relationships, and causing unhappiness. If you define criticism in these ways, it's impossible not to feel bad about the whole process. Some people feel so bad about giving or receiving criticism that they may burst into tears. Others find giving criticism so difficult that they would rather fix the problem themselves or ignore it altogether. Neither approach is all that constructive in the long run.
There is, however, another way to think about criticism, one that does not invoke the same set of negative emotions: Criticism is information that can help you improve.
Viewed this way, receiving criticism can be both beneficial and positive. Similarly, giving criticism is intended to improve and strengthen the recipient, not tear them down. Consider the spinach-on-the-teeth dilemma. You are with a co-worker at a function and notice that he or she has a big piece of spinach on their teeth. What's better: Letting them look ridiculous for the rest of the evening or telling them about their problem so they can remove it quickly? When you do tell them, aren't they usually grateful for the tip?
Much of the criticism we receive in the course of doing science is intended to be positive. The negative comments we receive on our manuscripts, assuming that they are constructive, are meant to improve and strengthen the work. Similarly, the criticism we may receive after presenting a talk is intended to clarify issues, point out weak areas, and improve understanding of the subject. After all, we're all pursuing the same fundamental goal: truth and accuracy in our understanding of the natural universe.
Dealing With Negative Criticism
Of course, if every critic gave advice in a positive, supportive, and encouraging manner, people probably wouldn't have too much trouble receiving criticism. Sadly, most people (especially professors) are horrible at giving positive criticism, which leaves students feeling hurt, defensive, and shy about being criticized more.
Negative criticism typically fails in one or more of the following ways:
- It isn't strategic. The critic does not think about what specifically they want to change or what goals and solutions they can offer.
- It isn't improvement oriented. The critic doesn't make suggestions as to how to improve.
- It attacks self-esteem. The critic uses labels (such as "lazy"), speaks in absolutes, and does not allow the recipient to save face.
- It uses the wrong words. The critic uses negative statements and words like "should" instead of "could."
- It comes with no supporting evidence. Critic does not support comments with evidence or fair comparisons.
Negative criticism is always hard to take. However there are several strategies you can adopt to minimize the damage to your ego and improve future communication with the critic.
First, it is essential to welcome criticism at all times. Often critics will react negatively when those they criticize are defensive and unreceptive. Try to listen to the ideas behind the criticism, not the actual words. If you assume that your critic has your best interests at heart, it will be easier for you to be more open and less defensive, which in turn may help to assuage the critic's concerns and to reduce the emotional charge of the situation.
Second, it is important to listen carefully and ask questions. Often people are so scared when they receive criticism that they are silent throughout the entire encounter. Asking clarifying questions in a non-defensive manner can help identify specific issues. One of the best questions to ask is, "What suggestions do you have for me?" Echo what the critic is saying to make sure that you understand their points.
Third, allow the critic to deliver the sum of their criticism before responding. Do not try to rebut each point as it comes up, but do listen attentively, make mental notes, and discuss your perspective after you've received all of the bad news. Because criticism is often as hard to give as it is to receive, letting your critic fully vent may be genuinely appreciated--and there's a good chance that they will be more receptive to your perspective if they feel you've given them the opportunity to be heard in full.
Finally, it is absolutely critical to stay cool. It is natural to feel defensive when being criticized, and it can be hard not to convey that message in your body language. You may find yourself crossing your arms and hunching your shoulders, and your breathing and heart rate may increase substantially. Try to relax. Take a few deep breaths. Be aware of your own physical cues. If the situation becomes truly unbearable, ask to take a quick bathroom break or suggest that you resume the conversation at a later date.
How to Be a Positive Critic
It is likely that you will have plenty of opportunity to do your own criticizing in the future. Rather than adopting the bad habits and poor communication skills you have observed in others, consider ways of becoming a positive critic. In particular, you could ...
- Become more aware of yourself. Seek out information about yourself and actively solicit criticism through questions such as, "How could I be doing this better?"
- Become more aware of the people you are criticizing. Consider their emotions, actions, and feelings.
- Acknowledge the necessary subjectivity of your observations.
- Give concrete and fair criteria for criticizing.
- Lead not only through words but through actions. Set a good example, and follow up on criticism with questions such as, "How can I help?"
If your boss is unskilled in the art of positive criticism, you may want to sit down with them and discuss the ways that they can be most effective in their criticism. But if you fear that such advice might not sink in, you can always print out a copy of this article and slip it quietly into their mailbox or attach it to the latest draft of your manuscript!
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