Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Dan Ouwehand's 3 tips to Self-Actualized Criticism-Taking

If there are any readers left after my recent hiatus, hello.

I've already posted on "Failure to Communicate".  But guess what?  I'm like that kid in The Sixth Sense, who sees dead people.  Only instead of dead people, I see failures to communicate.  Which is only a little less unsettling.

Have you ever had someone tear you a new one?  I mean - really lay into you?  I bet you have.  It's part of shuffling around on this planet.  What do you usually do when that happens?  Allow me to describe some stock responses:

1.  The newbie response: This doesn't happen to you very often.  Perhaps you were new at a job, or crossed a person you didn't know was difficult, and you got blindsided by the arse-chewing of a lifetime.  And it levels you.  You choke back tears all day.  At your earliest opportunity, you go home, change into your pyjamas, bust into the emergency chocolate supply, and watch comfort movies till next Thursday.  You decide to change careers, relationships, hairstyles, area codes, etc.
- The problems with this response are pretty obvious: most people who will yell at you aren't worth spending much time on.  They don't know you, and their reaction says more about their inability to deal with change than it does with your level of competence.

(Don't click on this video if you don't like offensive language.  It's Dane Cook.  That's what he does.)

2.  The "I'm Perfect" response: You don't know how often this happens to you.  Because you hardly notice it happening.  Your typical response is, "What was wrong with that guy?  Obviously he doesn't realize how flawlessly I execute my life." It's forgotten before the bubbles of his yell-spit on your shirt pop.  This response is also called the 'avoidant' response.
- The problem here: I'm gonna tell you something you might be avoiding paying a therapist a lot of money for: Sometimes, it IS your fault. Yes, it's true.  And guess what else?  Everyone knows it but you.

3.  The Canadian response:  It goes like this: "Sorry! I'm sorry!  I'm SO sorry!  I'm sorry I wronged you!  I'm sorry I have this problem!  Sorry for my personality! Sorry for YOUR personality! Sorry I have interactions with you that are sometimes inconvenient! Sorry for taxes! Sorry my career prep teacher in high school said I'd be good at this type of job!"
- The problem here:  I bet you are uncomfortable with conflict, because you are saying WHATEVER IT WILL TAKE to get your butt out of this uneasy situation.  But guess what?  Saying sorry can mean that you are taking responsibility for things that are not yours to own up to.  Particularly, the fact that the person shouting at you is currently being an asshole. And probably some other things as well.

4. The 'nuclear bomb' response: This one goes like this: "You have a problem with something I did?  Well, I have a problem with YOU!" "OH YEAH? WELL YOU'RE A FAT PRICK AND I'M STILL MAD AT YOU FOR THAT THING YOU DID TWO YEARS AGO!"
- Take it easy, Allcaps.  I'm going to paint you a word-picture, cause I'm a nice guy.  You and this person (assuming they are someone you must maintain a relationship with, like a co-worker or relative) are in a boat.  Your response is equivalent to taking an axe, and beginning to take large hacks out of the bottom of the boat. So, if you succeed in sinking the boat, did you win, or lose?

So, here are Dan Ouwehand's 3 Rules for handling conflict like a self actualized person. And believe me, I'm very qualified to give these to you.  Not only am I extremely self-actualized, I ALSO get yelled at a lot.

1. Consider the source
Many screaming matches can start and end right here.  If this person doesn't know you, I'm going to give you permission right now to do something: let it go.  They are crazy.  Their screaming has nothing to do with you (but I bet they have some really messed up childhood stories, if you're patient enough to wean them out). However (and here's where people often miss the boat), if this person has known you for a while, there is also a possibility that there is some substance to their beef, even if the delivery mechanism happens to be blunt, like a baseball bat to the noggin.  Don't forget that this person has been watching you for a while.  They can see a side of you that you can't always see.  It's the subconscious version of the back of my head, which I shave by myself, and often poorly, I'd imagine.

2. Apply the filter 
Anecdote time (it's like story time, but much more professional).  I work in a department that manages about 15 crews of flooring installers.  Of those crews, I have a few that are very 'generous' (read obnoxious) with their feedback.  "It's too hot" "They didn't move the furniture" "They left a barking dog in the basement" "The painter stopped by from 11:00-11:15" "That job didn't pay enough (strangely, I never hear about the other ones)."  I also have a few crews who are very positive, and reserve their opinions for those times when it's warranted.  I bet you can guess which ones make me close my youtube browser when they speak up (if my boss reads this, I'm just kidding - it's a figure of speech all us crazy gen-Y'ers are using).

I have a few people at work who I truly respect.  They work hard, they have integrity, and they produce huge results within the company.  However, they also live with their frustrations until they've had it up to their ears.  Therefore, by the time you're hearing about the problem, there's a lot of emotion to work through before you get to the heart of the issue. I guess you could call it "rich" emotion (that means angry).  When I get feedback from these guys (they're guys, in my case), I apply the filter, receive the message, and (try to) refuse to take offense at the medium.  I know that their frustration does not affect their relationship with me any differently than if a more diplomatic person was upset with me.

3. Find the growth opportunity

If you're married, perhaps from time to time your spouse will 'emote' to you about things that are frustrating them.  Then they'll apologize and say that there were extenuating circumstances that made them say what they said (lack of sleep, bad day at work, whatever).  I bet you have a filter for cranky family members, right?  But don't forget that when their patience is diminished you've also got an opportunity to find out what things bug them a little bit - just enough that they only come out when they're cranky.  After all, feedback is the breakfast of champions.

So, now we've established a few things: 1) The person who is upset is qualified to speak into our lives, for one reason or another.  2) We have taken their words, and multiplied them by the "speaker factor", those things we know about the speaker that may cause them to overstate the point or be unintentionally offensive.  Now we have a distilled message that might really be worth something.  What they're saying comes after a sustained period of observation, and they know you well enough to have a higher expectation of you.  Now you can take what's left of the message, and translate it into your own self-talk.

Guess what?  You just took a hurtful situation, and used it to make yourself a better person!  You are now officially more self-actualized than 85% of the population (I made that figure up, but look around - it FEELS true).

Now, there's an important note to make here.  I'm not condoning the behaviour of screamers.  I don't feel that's an appropriate way to convey your disapproval.  However, we live in a world where people's interpersonal skills are at various levels of development.  It's just going to happen sometimes.  So we may as well try and make some good come out of it, right?  Take the criticism, and make it constructive.

And also a challenge: don't let your own dissatisfaction escalate to a fever pitch before you share it.  Many (though admittedly not all) people out there are anxious to hear how they're doing, and would love to try to get better.

And here's a great place to start.  What type are you?  Have you had a great confrontation story?  I'd love to hear it.  Post it below for the lovely people.  I love your feedback (though preferably with minimal animosity).


1 comment:

  1. Dan, great insight, good comments. When I have faced people who criticize me I've taken a similar approach:
    step 1 - how much of the problem is their problem and I can do nothing about it and just have to let it go.
    step 2 - how much of it is really my problem & I'd better get to work on it,
    step 3 - how much of it lies somewhere in between and we need to sit down together and work it through.
    Don't accept responsibility for things that are not yours and about which there is nothing you can do!
    Good insight!