Receiving Criticism: Tip #1

16 Nov

Ask yourself if the intent is positive: Pay more attention to the “what” versus the “how”

Being able to sort out the intentions behind the criticism is a valuable way for you to exercise the control that is inherently yours. The giver’s purpose of the criticism should be delivered in such a way that will inspire you to want to bring about a change in behavior that ultimately helps you to perform better or to resolve a situation.


Here’s an example: Just as you walk through the office door, your boss screams at you for not having finished a report the night before. (Notice that you haven’t said anything yet, not even “hello.”) After examining what your boss is saying and questioning his intention, you may conclude that he’s having a bad day and his only intent is to take it out on you. Reaching this conclusion is easier when you and your boss have a relationship rooted in trust and respect.

However, if you are unsure of the giver’s intention, you need to  ask directly, what is the purpose of the criticism.  How this question is asked needs some special consideration in order to avoid adding fuel to a situation that may already be emotionally charged.

When assessing the intent behind the criticism, receivers need to watch out for paying too much attention to “how” the criticism is being communicated than on “what” is being said.

Discussions with hundreds of people during workshops have revealed clues to look for when trying to determine the intent behind criticism. The following are some of the more common clues for you to look for on the part of the giver of criticism. These clues should send an immediate signal to you that the giver’s intent may not be positive.

  • Approaches you knowing that it will upset you
  • Talks in generalities
  • Fails to look you in the eye
  • Is quick to cut you off
  • Exaggerates the criticism
  • Offers no corrective action
  • Compares you to an identified known enemy

If one or more of these clues are present, then you might want to ask for

clarification of the giver’s intention. A good question to ask to clarify the intent behind the criticism is: “How do you want me to take this?” or “How should I take this?” Watch your tone of voice when asking these questions!

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