Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How to Deal With Criticism

Today I had a minor 'disgreement' with a guy I was sparring with at Jiu Jitsu.
He didn't like my sparring style (no one I've ever sparred with has had a problem with the way I roll) and told me in no uncertain terms, and in what I considered to be a very belittling and condescending, way what he thought of the point of 'asking' if I wanted to settle it 'upstairs' (there is a boxing/kickboxing gym upstairs from my Jiu Jitsu dojo) with a spot of boxing!...
Not sure if he knows that I've done a little glove work myself...
To be honest I was pretty pissed off, and I'm not someone who gets angered easily. So when I got home I figured that it was the perfect opportunity to put into practice the techniques that I have so often used over the years and that I teach my clients and patients.
Because let's face it, when we hold on to anger it is like letting someone live rent free inside our heads.
Release, release, release.

Whenever someone criticizes me or after any situation of  confrontation I always reflect on the situation.  This is like a 'personal audit' and has two major benefits: It allows us to learn and grow from the experience; and it allows us to let go of the situation (not continue to carry around anger, resentment and all those "I should have done this...and should have said that" internal monologues!)

Is it Justified?
The first question I ask myself always is: : "Is the criticism justified?"
There are times when there just isn't really any justification for what someone is saying. In these cases we are really just beating ourselves up if we continue to carry it around. Simply asking the question "Is it justified?" and answering "No" is enough for us to have some sort of resolution and be able to let it go instead of reliving it over and over.
However on many occasions people do have a valid point of criticism and sometimes the confrontation that they initiate is valid in it's basis (although more often than not the way people approach these confrontations is counterproductive, confrontational and in some cases violent.)

When we ask ourselves this simple we question we will often be able to pin-point a justification or rationale for the other parties actions. Realizing this justification for the other parties position (and for their anger) helps us to understand them, and understanding is the key to forgiveness.
If we are able to see where they may have a point we can then go a step further and think "Am I prepared to do something about it?"
Often there will be an opportunity for growth and change that we may not have realized, and so the confrontation or criticism has already served a valuable purpose. The growth and change can then stem from the ways that we decide to change our actions and outlook so that this doesn't occur again.
However this must be within our value set. Some things just aren't important to us and our world view, and if that is the case we need to recognize it, otherwise we may end up simply trying to change to meet someone else's expectations - not changing in order to live a life of greater passion and purpose.

I remember for example that someone I used to live with would often get frustrated by little things I would do. I wouldn't even notice them and to be honest they were things I didn't think were important. Some I wouldn't change anyway because they are either so inconsequential OR are part of my value set.
But when she would bring them up I would thank her and explain that I understood that it is an issue for her but that it simply wasn't for me, and could we come to some sort of accord - not just about the action that was frustrating her, but also about our differences in what we considered important. That understanding alone made everyone in the house more considerate of the others values, and therefor more forgiving.

Decide on Actions
If you've decided that there is some justification in the criticism and you are prepared to do something, you simply need to think of what that thing, or things are!
A few simple action steps can completely change interpersonal dynamics, and simply having a greater awareness of how we have acted in ways that aren't congruent with our highest values and purpose can give us the awareness to not allow it to happen (or at least as much) in future. In doing so we can begin to change our patterns of action and come closer to that 'perfect' life of purpose we desire.

Say "Thank You!"
Our greatest teachers are often the most frustrating people, and those that we have conflict with.....IF we use the confrontations as an opportunity for self reflection and growth.
As the conduit for our continued growth the other person should be thanked!
They brought to a head a circumstance that allowed us to become better, and hey perhaps we brought that element into our lives, because it simply had to be.

[I did thank the guy that I had the disagreement with today...but he was more intent on challenging me to a fist fight than coming to an accord!]

Never make it personal & never make it about something else...
This is THE key to communicating with others in confrontational situations.
Asking the question "Is it justified?" in response to someone's criticism is in itself a great way to subvert the temptation to make it personal (like replying: "Well you're ugly!) or about something else:
"You didn't put the dishes away!"
"Well you never clean the bathroom!"
It is always better to not attack the person - you don't mean to anyway, it is simply the heat of the moment, and any mature communication based around non-judging compassion and love precludes this.
Personal attacks only make future relationships with that person more challenging.
Changing the subject to another issue is also counter-productive. It is a form of personal attack, and it is simply a diversion. It is better to defuse the situation at hand and to learn and grow when necessary and where able. If there is another issue that needs addressing, do it separately, preferably at a later time and outside of a heated or confrontational situation.

Breathe deeply, relax, sit in silence, smile...
Exude love and compassion to your adversary and RELEASE!

I will be hosting conscious, compassionate communication and meditation classes starting in the Spring. Email or DM me if you would like more information, and stay tuned for details!

~ Cliff


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