#518  from Innovative Leader Volume 10, Number 2          February 2001

The Taming of the Critic
by Patti Hathaway, CSP

Ms. Hathaway helps organizations manage change. She is author of three books including Untying the ĎNotsí of Change Before Youíre Fit to be Tied (Destination Publications, Westerville, OH, 2000).  She can be reached at 1-800-339-0973 or www.thechangeagent.com.

When it comes to criticism, most people think it's more blessed to give criticism than to take it, especially if the criticism comes from a difficult person who also happens to be your customer. What are some effective ways you can handle those tough to handle critical situations?

The first technique is ideal for dealing with unjustified criticism.  Often this type of criticism comes in the form of advice (sometimes both unwarranted and unasked for!).  An example might be a co-worker who overhears you on the phone with a customer and says, "Boy, I just overheard you on the phone with that customer.  I don't think I would have said that." 

Fogging

Typically there are two ways to respond to that co-worker:  (1) We could become quiet and mumble, admitting that we were wrong (a passive approach); or (2) we could tell that person where they could go with their opinion (the aggressive route - a favorite with many).  A far better approach would be to utilize the assertive fogging technique which calmly acknowledges that there may be some truth in the criticism.

For the previous criticism of your coworker, you could fog them by saying, "Perhaps I could have responded to that customer differently."  You don't say to the critic that they are absolutely right and you don't tell them they are absolutely wrong.  You merely agree that there may be some truth in the statement.  Other potential fogging responses might be:  You might be right about...You could be right about...What you say makes sense....

Youíre Right

When you are given valid criticism, the best thing to do is to admit the truth.  That is, accept your mistakes and faults without over-apologizing for them.  Too often when we make a mistake we try and cover it up.  Perhaps the root of coverups lie in our childhood of getting "caught" and our fear of punishment.  But in reality, the best thing we can do is to admit we made a mistake and move to the future.  Potential phrases might include:  You're right, I didn't....You're right.  I did do that incorrectly.  Now that I know the correct way to do it... When it comes to customer service, most customers love the words, "Iím sorry."

What?

Dealing with vague criticism is sometimes the most difficult and frustrating.  In these cases, it is important to request specific feedback.  You want to prompt criticism by listening to your critic and asking questions.  Some examples are:  What did I do that... How could I improve... What am I doing specifically...  All of these questions will force your critic to be more clear in their criticism and will enable you to change behavior to more effectively meet their expectations or needs.

The bottom line in handling criticism is to learn how to build a firm foundation out of the bricks that others throw at them.  That is what handling criticism effectively can do for you...it can help you build a foundation of mutual respect rather than a barrier for protection.

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