PROVIDING NEGATIVE CRITICISM: DEFENDING THE FIVE LEVELS
In my previous post I provided readers a discussion titled PROVIDING NEGATIVE CRITICISM: FIVE LEVELS OF MATURITY. Several of the same arguments that I used earlier to defend the FIVE LEVELS OF RESPONDING TO CRITICISM are equally true for defending the five levels of providing negative criticism. Perhaps the best argument for the five levels can be derived from the golden rule—Treat others as you want to be treated. If this strikes you as containing wisdom, then I suggest asking yourself the following. Do you personally desire, when criticized, to be provided clear, usable information without being bombarded with insults, glares, threats or physical attacks?
If your answer is yes, then to be consistent with the golden rule, it makes sense that you provide negative criticism to others in a manner that is described as level 5.
Although it has been my experience that most people, after some practice, come to agree that the five levels do a pretty good job helping to clarify in their minds the most mature way to provide negative criticism, there are a few questions that come up from time to time. To address these questions, I will present a discussion based on one I had with a counseling client whom we will call Beatrice.
Discussion with Beatrice
“Hi, Beatrice. Say, I was wondering if you read over the pages I gave you that describe the five levels of providing negative criticism?”
“I sure did, Jeff. I do have some questions, though.”
“I’m very interested in what you have to say, Beatrice.”
“Jeff, when you describe the lowest levels of providing negative criticism, you take a dim view of using physical attacks and shouting. But I’m a mom. Just like my mom did with me, when my son Mickey does something wrong, I do shout at him and smack him on his butt. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?”
After a few seconds, I say gently, “You know, Beatrice, if I answer you, part of what I say might provide negative criticism to you.”
“Are you saying I’m doing something wrong?!” Beatrice shouts.
I pause, and then express my empathy for what she appears to be experiencing. “I realize discussing this, Beatrice, can be difficult. If I did think you did something wrong, maybe you’re not up to hearing my opinion?”
Beatrice taps her foot for a few seconds and takes a deep breath. “Okay, Jeff, I’m ready. Let me hear what’s on your mind.”
I think to myself, Beatrice seems pretty fragile about this issue. I better tread lightly.
“Well, Beatrice, first of all, I must admit, I – along with the vast majority of us parents – have come to a point where we were at least mighty tempted to give our kids a good whack.”
“You’re darn toot-in!” Beatrice emphatically replies.
“Some people might raise the following question: If you hit Mickey when he does something wrong, are you teaching him that it’s okay for him to hit others when they do something he doesn’t like?”
“I don’t think so, Jeff. The first time I see Mickey hit another kid I’ll smack him good while yelling at him, ‘You’re not the kid’s mother. It’s only okay for a mother to hit her kid. Don’t you ever let me see you hit another kid!’”
“I see, Beatrice. You feel that you can teach him that it’s not okay for him to hit even though you hit him by explaining that it’s only okay for mothers to hit their kids.”
I pause to think about this for a few seconds. Then I say, “I think I understand your position, Beatrice. Having heard what you said, here’s my negative criticism, if you’re still up to hear it.”
Frowning, Beatrice says, “Let’s hear it.”
“I do know kids often pick up more of what their parents do than what their parents say, and some things the kids pick up aren’t always what their parents might want.”
Beatrice shifts in her chair a bit, and then looks up at me. “Go ahead, Jeff,” she says.
“Well, Beatrice, I’m concerned that hitting Mickey might make it harder for him to get the message that hitting others is not usually the best way to provide criticism.”
“I guess you feel it’s never okay for a mother to strike her child,” she says after a while.
“Well, first of all, I know many, many people who were raised with shouting, spanking mothers, and most of them turned out just fine. But a few years ago this psychologist, Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff, looked at both positive and negative behaviors in children. Some parents used hitting and some didn’t. Gershoff found that the use of hitting was associated with an increase in child aggression and antisocial behavior.
“If you’d like, Beatrice, tell me about the last time you provided negative criticism to Mickey so I can better picture what typically is occurring.”
“We were at the kitchen table and he tipped over his glass of milk.
I yelled at him and smacked him on his bottom.”
“I see. It sure is frustrating when someone spills a glass of milk—the waste, the clean-up.”
“Yes, it is. So, what would you do with Mickey when he tips over his glass of milk? You can’t reason with him.”
“If Mickey’s not ready to drink out of a regular glass, there are these cups for children that have a cover with a small opening to drink from. When these cups are tipped over, they don’t spill. Now, children do like to learn to act like older people. For example, Mickey, when he was younger, used to crawl, but he saw older people walking about and he began to try to master that skill, and now he walks just fine.
“If you begin to use this children’s cup, you can, at some point, ask Mickey if he wants to learn to drink out of a ‘big boy’ glass, and show him what it looks like. When he indicates an interest in doing this, you can tell him that he must show you he can drink from the children’s cup for a while without tipping it over. Show him what you mean by tipping it over, and see if he understands by asking him to tip it over. Once he shows you he understands this, you can watch him during meals to see if he is being careful. When he goes for a few minutes without tipping the cup over, you can praise him enthusiastically, smile, pat his back, and remind him that if he keeps doing a good job he can soon use a ‘big boy’ glass.
“Now, once you feel he’s ready for the ‘big boy’ glass, you can let him try it out and, when you do, remind him to be careful. Only fill it up about an inch high so if it spills it won’t make as big a mess. After about a minute, if he hasn’t tipped it over, praise him enthusiastically, smile, pat his back, and remind him that if he keeps doing a good job, he can drink from now on like the big boys.
“Of course, from time to time, there will be an accident. Then, you can look sad, and have him help you clean up the mess. If there are too many messes for you to put up with, you may want to decide to go back to the children’s cup for a while. If you do, you could tell Mickey that it’s just for a little while, just until he can show you that he can learn to use the cup without tipping it over. Then, again, when he does a good job, you praise him enthusiastically, pat his back, and remind him why you are pleased.”
“I guess, Jeff, I can give that a try. I like how specific you are. I understand that more mature people, when providing criticism, are clear enough so that the person being criticized can, if he or she wills, improve the behavior. You just provided a good example of this.”
“Thanks, Beatrice. I like the way you were able to hear me out on a topic that is obviously a very sensitive one for you.”
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.