Chapter 6: Verbal Judo: Learn to talk back when you’re under the Fire of Criticism
In this chapter you can learn how to handle criticism with dignity. The essential thing to know: If someone calls you stupid or criticizes you in another way it’s not this particular person who makes you feel bad or upsets you. Like the chapters laid out before: It’s all your thinking!
“Only one person in this world has the power to put you down – and you are that person, no one else!”
When you’re being criticized it triggers your own negative thoughts about yourself to rise from your subconsciousness to your consciousness! These thoughts are bound to the negative thinking pattern we learned about in chapter 3 like “all-or-nothing thinking” or “overgeneralization”. When criticized we think that it means we were right all along and we’re worthless, stupid, ugly, or what else there is that could be potentially wrong with a human being.
To identify your negative thoughts, Burns suggests to use the exercises in the previous chapters. Write down your negative thoughts in the left column (self-criticism) and then in the right negate your thoughts with positive and realistic ones (self-defense) until you’re feeling better.
You shouldn’t be upset when another person behaves unfriendly and unfair towards you. You’re not to blame – this person is! When the criticism isn’t unfair but constructive and right: Don’t be upset! You’re not perfect and you can learn a lot when taking the criticism and transforming it into a lesson for you to learn!
Step One – Empathy
You don’t know what the critic intended to do. Perhaps you just assume he wanted to hurt you but he could also just wanted to help you and isn’t aware of the fact that it did hurt you!
To find out what the critic intended with his criticism, Burns suggests to ask for more and more details regarding his comment without being judgmental or defensive! See the situation from the other person’s eyes. This alone could help clarify if the criticism was valid and thought through or just an angry comment that he made because the situation was bothering him or he had a bad day.
You could role-play a scenario that involves a situation that could happen or had happened. You’re playing both the attacker and yourself as the defender (or you could ask a friend to play the attacker). Ask specific details about everything e. g. why does he call you ugly or stupid until you know what exactly is bothering the person. Now you’re on to a good conversation and could find a solution to the problem he’s having with you or he notices that the comment wasn’t valid after all and he could excuse himself for his behaviour.
Burns has written down a great example of a role-play between him and a patient that illustrates what your questions and the dialogue could look like!
Step Two – Disarming the Critic
“If someone is shooting at you, you have three choices: You can stand and shoot back – this usual leads to warfare and mutual destruction; you can run away or try to dodge the bullets – this often results in humiliation and a loss of self-esteem; or you can stay put and skillfully disarm your opponent. I have found that this third solution is by far the most satisfying.”
How? Only rule: Just find some way to agree with your opponent (no sarcasm or defensiveness)!
The critic won’t stay upset for long when you’re generally telling him he is right. That sounds a bit strange but Burns has a point. Why make yourself more miserable than you need to be?
Attacker: “You’re so stupid!”
You: “Yeah, sometimes I feel like I should know more than I already do!”
Attacker: “Your work is shitty like hell!”
You: “I could improve upon it, that’s right!”
Attacker: “Why are you such a freakshow?”
You: “Sometimes I’m asking myself the same thing. There are so many people who seem to have more normal hobbies and interests than I have. I don’t know why I was born like this but it would be boring without some freaks I guess!”
Step Three – Feedback and Negotiation
Present your point of view with diplomacy in an objective way! E. g. if you’re being criticized for wearing too formal clothes, Burns suggests the following statement:
“I understand your point entirely, and there is some truth to it! Nevertheless, I’ve decided to stick with more formal attire at this time.”
When the critic had every right to point out a mistake it will help you to agree with him and thank him for his criticism. That will earn the respect of the critic – so it’s a win, too 🙂
Burns wants you to know that you have every right to get angry at an attacker but you should be aware that your angry behaviour towards this person could backfire with a depressive episode and self-defeating thoughts!
Click here for Part 5 of my book summary!