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Do You Criticize?

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog is extracted, in part, from “Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You”.

Criticism takes different forms and tends to exacerbate conflict and derail conversations, preventing them from evolving in a productive manner. Examples may be finding fault when others’ viewpoints do not suit us or our opinions. Name-calling, put-downs, “dirt-throwing,” and otherwise blaming people for their ideas, actions, personality, and so on, are also forms of criticism. Similarly, criticizing may be demonstrated by micromanaging, and by continually correcting things others say or do. Having a dismissive attitude, and being sarcastic, belittling, controlling, patronizing, and condescending, may all be experienced as criticism, too. Sometimes we do not criticize verbally, but our facial and body language speak for us.

For some of us, criticizing is a strategy for maintaining control or managing hurt, anger, and other emotions. We may criticize when we experience push-back of our perspectives. We may choose criticism to be in control, to make our point, to “win” a disagreement, or to undermine the other person and her or his opinions, needs, beliefs, and interests. Criticizers themselves may lack self-esteem and be self-critical, and criticizing others makes them feel more powerful. Or, we may genuinely dispute another person’s perspective, or how she or he is acting, and choose criticism instead of more conflict-masterful approaches.

By criticizing—however we do it—we may be seen as demonstrating intolerance, judgmentalism, lack of flexibility, and a need to be right. Criticizers also seem to have trouble separating the person from the real crux of the situation, adding to the negative dynamic. This means our differences become increasingly personal. It often seems, when this happens, that criticism breeds criticism. Inevitably, we then both spiral downward in our interaction.

If you tend to criticize during a conflict or have done so in a specific situation and if someone has criticized you in a conflict, this is an opportunity to explore your reaction further.

When you consider the last time you criticized someone during a conflict, what was the conflict? About what, specifically, were you being critical?

What bothered you most about the other person’s actions, words, and so on that resulted in your criticism? What were you experiencing at the time (feeling, thinking) about the other person?

What, specifically, did you say by way of criticizing? How did the other person respond?

If the other person became defensive in response to your criticism, what did you hear her or him defend?

What were you aiming to accomplish with your criticism? How did you succeed in doing so? What did you not achieve that you had hoped to?

What did you need or want the other person to say or do in that situation instead that you would not have criticized? How would you have interacted differently with her or him in that case?

If you were to frame your criticism as a request, how would that sound?

When you consider a situation in which someone criticized you during a conflict, what was that like for you? (If this happened in the same situation just discussed, it may be helpful to use that example here.) What do you suppose the other person needed or wanted from you at the time that you were not delivering?

What request might the other person have made of you pertaining to the substance of the criticism that you would have been less likely to react negatively to? How might you have responded differently in this case?

Looking back now on your answers to the above questions, what two new things have you learned, or been reminded of, about the use of criticism?

What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?

What insights do you have?

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