LEARNING TO HANDLE CRITICISM MATURELY: A PRACTICE SESSION UTILIZING COMIC STRIP EXAMPLES
In an earlier post, eight reasons were given for why someone might criticize or insult you. Becoming familiar with the various reasons is helpful because once you identify the reason, it becomes easier to choose a plan to maturely deal with the criticism. If you see that someone is just playfully teasing you, just a smile may be all that is needed as a response. If someone is criticizing you because he or she is in a bad mood, all that might be needed is a gentle, sympathetic response such as, “Is everything okay?”
One of the most frequent reasons why people might criticize you is to encourage you to make some type of improvement. For example, let’s say we’re going out to dinner at a fancy restaurant. I see that you have a stain on your shirt. I might say, “Your shirt has a stain on it.” In this example, I criticized your shirt because I want to encourage you to change your shirt for something that I think would be an improvement.
When we discussed handling this type of criticism, I proposed that there were:
Five levels of maturity for providing this type of criticism (see post titled PROVIDING NEGATIVE CRITICISM: FIVE LEVELS OF MATURITY).
Today we will have some fun practicing identifying what level of maturity is being displayed by a comic strip character and then describing what the character would have to do to earn a more mature rating. By diligently working on the following exercises, you will find that you will be far better at applying these skills to real life situations.
Exercises with Comics
These exercises require that you read a comic and then respond to one or more questions. After you create each of your answers, you will have the opportunity to compare it to how I would go about analyzing the situation.
Here’s an interesting one. Linus criticizes his sister, Lucy, in the hope that this will encourage her to make an improvement. How would you rate Lucy’s response to Linus’s criticism?
1. This level requires displaying one or more of the following:
- Weeps or sobs with tears or pouts
- Physically attacks the criticizer
- Damages property
Because Lucy hits Linus, she deserves a rating of 1, the lowest level of maturity.
It is interesting that after she hits Linus, Lucy does begin to ask for more information about the criticism he had provided. This is encouraging from a developmental point of view. It suggests that Lucy is at least trying to come to some understanding about the criticism. Mature individuals do process the criticism they receive rather than just ignore it. But once Lucy has shown Linus that she is likely to slug him when he provides her criticism, he is unlikely to be willing to provide her even more criticism out of fear he would get slugged again. And so, even though Lucy is interested in learning more about this “talking too much” issue, she may not get a fair and accurate report. The fact that we silence people from providing important information to us when we hit them is one of the reasons hitting leads to a very low rating. Wise people encourage criticism rather that discourage it.
Although Lucy’s interest in the criticism does suggest that maturity is beginning to blossom within her, the rating system calls for a rating of 1 if she hits someone regardless of what else she does. However, if you would like to give her a little higher rating because she shows some real interest in the criticism, that’s fine with me.
In the next comic, Charlie Brown is provided two types of criticism, first positive and then negative. How would you rate each of Charlie’s two responses?
Patty then replies, “Don’t mention it…I think that’s the least a person can say about you…” Charlie appears to be offended by this. There is a hint of a lowered eyebrow in the final picture (Mr. Shultz often used a lowered eyebrow to convey anger). Also, Charlie’s mouth is wide open, and the word, “LEAST” is in bold letters, followed by an exclamation mark. I’m going to give Charlie’s second response a 3 because it matches the level 3 description, which states:
3. This level requires displaying one or both of the following:
- Displays defensiveness without directly insulting the criticizer (raising voice’s volume or pitch)
- Displays a lack of interest either by verbally indicating this, or with nonverbal cues, or complete silence.
I think Charlie’s response matches level 3 because he made it pretty clear to Patty, without hitting her or calling her any names, that he has become defensive as a result of her second criticism. If Charlie had said the same words, but with a twinkle in his eyes, followed by a friendly smile, I would have given his response pretty close to a level 4.
Let’s do a Calvin and Hobbes comic; they’re so much fun. As you read it, please take a look to see how Susie handles Calvin’s criticism and then give her response your rating.
Later in her response, Susie indicates that she disagrees with Calvin’s criticism by saying, “No, he’s not. He’s a big cutie.” Then she hugs Hobbes and smiles sweetly.
Level 4 responses permit people to disagree, but it must be done without being disagreeable. I’m not sure if Calvin completely sees Susie’s style of disagreeing with him as not being disagreeable, but it strikes me as rather sweet.
In the last scene, Calvin and Hobbes argue and Hobbes says, “I was beguiled by her feminine charms, yow.” Because we, the readers, know Hobbes is really a stuffed animal, the words of Hobbes really are designed to capture a little of how Calvin feels inside. Thus Calvin recognizes at some level that Susie’s responses in the interaction he had with her were somewhat beguiling. I guess I’m leaning toward giving Susie a rating pretty close to a level 4. She could have been a little warmer to Calvin and showed some empathy for his desire to have a stuffed tiger that looks ferocious, so I’ll remove some fraction of one off her level 4 rating and give her a 3.8. If Susie was a student of mine, I’d provide her rating in the following format—“I gave you 4 points because your plan best matches the level 4 description, and then I subtracted .2 points because you didn’t show you fully understood Calvin’s criticism. Therefore you earned a 3.8.”
In the following Baby Blues comic the wife is angry about something.
It looks pretty obvious to me that the wife is angry because her husband is relaxing while she is doing one chore after another. Pretend that you are her and you decide to criticize your husband. This leads you to pause to consider how you are inclined to do this. You see within yourself that you plan to act nasty to him. Please rate that plan and then see if you can come up with something more mature.
This level requires displaying one or both of the following:
- The criticizer does not explain what the offending behavior is, but instead expresses displeasure with glares, insults, shouting, silence, or threats that do not involve bodily harm
- Threatens bodily harm regardless of what else is said
In seeking to figure out a more mature response, I think I might end up creating something like this— I’d say to my husband, “When I’m cleaning around the house and you are relaxing, I prefer that you get up and get your own drink. Are you okay with that?” Then I would listen to his response in a caring manner, show him that I heard what he said, and then, if I wanted to provide some additional negative criticism to him because I disagreed with his response, I would pause to rate the response I am inclined to make, and try to create something more mature.
Well, this concludes our little practice session for today. I hope you had some fun.
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 and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.