Friday, June 24, 2011
Interpersonal Communication, Self-Esteem, Criticism: Part 2
Continuation from last post.
My purpose in discussing this subject is to focus on how poor self-esteem affects your communication. In fact, it underlies most of how you deal with other people.
1. First, you will perceive others more negatively if you have a low self-esteem.
2. Secondly, you will be more critical of other people and their motives.
3. You will be less trusting.
4. You will have trouble accepting criticism.
5. Your communication will be characterized as defensive rather than supportive.
Of course, this class is about business communication, so I am mostly interested in the last two, because they can inhibit your career and your company’s progress. A person with a realistic self-concept and good self-esteem can accept criticism for what it is and not be knocked off course by it. We use the terms thin-skinned and thick-skinned to describe people who are either too bothered by criticism or who ignore it; neither extreme is productive.
How should we accept criticism?
Slowly and neutrally. The first thing to do when criticized is to have a strategy that “gatekeeps” your acceptance of it. Most of us hear criticism and it goes straight to our emotions. Our bodies react to the threat we perceive from criticism the same way we do to a physical threat—heart rate increases, skin may turn red due to increased blood flow, etc. So the other person will be able to detect nonverbal reactions immediately. Criticism often comes unexpectedly, too, putting you in an even weaker position. If you can learn to automatically slow down and have a set reaction to it, such as “Why do you believe that’s true?” “Can you give me an example?” you can keep from reacting emotionally and instead respond rationally.
Don’t argue. Period. It may be what the other person wants. However, I have found useful something I read years ago in Suzette Elgin’s The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, “In order to communicate, you must assume, for at least the moment, that what the person says is true.” I would restate that, “is true for them.” That doesn’t mean it’s true, but in order to understand the person’s viewpoint, the first response is to accept that they are presenting their view of reality honestly.
Realistically – Who is offering it? Why? What is the timing of the criticism? What exactly is the person criticizing? Is the person phrasing it incorrectly (probably)? It is foolish to assume that a person’s criticism is automatically valid, or that he/she is in a position to offer criticism, yet somehow we do. It is highly possible that first, the person is only criticizing you because he/she is having a bad day or stress of his/her own; that second, the person has incomplete or faulty perceptions or information about the situation; that third, the person has a hidden agenda which may be constructive or destructive to you and the environment; or that fourth, they have a point but aren’t doing it at the right time or in the right manner. Timing is everything with criticism.
With a goal. What does this person who has chosen to criticize you really want or expect? That’s what you ultimately want to know, because the criticism is linked to some problem situation and solving problems is what business communication is all about.
Focus. Listen closely. Mainly, stay on point. Criticism often escalates and grows into other areas. If you respond defensively by bringing up a failure on the critic’s part in the past, or even worse, blaming others, the encounter is going nowhere.
Ask for feedback. The person who is criticizing must be expected to be specific. If your supervisor says your work is unorganized, it is reasonable to ask for a specific project or time when this was so; otherwise, you have no reference point for improvement.
Watch the nonverbals. You can say all the right words but if your tone is hasty or sarcastic, or you totally lack eye contact, that’s what will be heard.
Now, the question might come up, How should we give criticism? Refer to pages 266-269 in text.
In a timely manner. Don’t wait. Nobody likes confrontation and we put it off, but that never solve the problem, and failure to address a problem can be interpreted as the absence of a problem.
Carefully. Basically, only give criticism if it is asked for or if it is understood that giving appraisals and evaluations is your function. Unasked for criticism is sort of a dead-end street. If the other person is a co-worker “on your level” you might make a suggestion but again, it’s best if the person is open for it. Furthermore, plan it; give some thought to it, because you have a desired outcome and you’re going to have to be specific about how the recipient can improve.
Purposefully. Why are you giving the criticism? It should be to get correct behavior in the future because the incorrect behavior of the past caused problems.
Proportionally. You only have a right to criticize if you can also praise. This however, does not mean that the criticism sandwich is a good idea in most cases. People are aware of it and tend to think the shoe is going to drop when they hear a compliment or praise. Give sincere, well-timed, appropriate, and specific praise ten times without criticism before you feel comfortable to give criticism. And in terms of proportionality, don’t try to criticize too much at once. One or two points at a time are enough.
Privately. Nothing will destroy your credibility and cause your criticism to be unheard like doing it in front of others.
With an eye to the future. There should be agreement on what the person receiving the criticism is going to do about it, and definitely some documentation if it’s an employment issue.
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