Several years ago, I received an acute criticism for a particular way I handled a problem at work. It wasn’t disastrous or anything. I wasn’t going to lose my job or get demoted. But the criticism floated around in my head for several days.
As a scientist, I daily engage in a process of the critical examination of facts and assumptions. However, when the process of critical analysis get applied to me as a person, it can be hard to embrace.
I’m OK considering ideas that challenge my understanding of human physiology and microbiology or a concept that reinvents the fundamental building blocks of the universe. But it can be tough to swallow the bitter pill of a close associate criticizing me.
As rational and emotional beings, we have lots of thoughts that go through our head following criticism — defensiveness, rationalization, sorrow, humor, anger, pride, self-loathing. I’ve found I have to accept and recognize the feelings. However, I also have to find a rational way to separate truth, error, and emotion.
After receiving that critical feedback several years ago, I decided to create a flowchart to help me process my thoughts. Rather than recycling through the criticism and all the associated emotions, I used the flowchart to guide my thoughts to a productive, better place.
I’ve modified that flow chart recently, and I share the results below.
How do you step through flow chart? Here’s a sample example.
I’m imagining (OK, don’t really have to imagine this) one of my kids says “I hate this dinner. You never make good food!” I might feel angry or resentful at the comment. I might feel doubtful in my parenting (and cooking) abilities. However, I can step through the flow chart as below.
First box, understanding? I would say Yes to understanding the criticism. I understand the point my child is making.
Next box, appropriate? I would say No to them offering appropriate criticism. They did not criticize me in an appropriate way.
Responsibility? I would say Yes to taking a responsibility for my critics actions. I’m responsible to helping my child learn and grow. We should have an accountability discussion about being respectful to a parent.
Agree? If I agreed that I made a bad dinner (burnt it…), I would then decide if I could fix the problem. Perhaps we’d be headed out to McDonalds, no hard feelings.
Lasting impact? Probably not if I fix the problem.
You can run several scenarios through this flowchart. I can’t guarantee it will cover every situation perfectly, but it gives you a chance to break away from the emotion of the moment and stop obsessing over the problem. It also teaches a way to think about criticism beyond simple blame and anger.
Truly, we are emotional beings. But we can learn to train our thinking to process our emotions in healthy ways.
Follow this link to get a downloadable PDF of the flowchart below.