By Steven G. Mehta

There comes a time in every mediator, litigator or person’s life when somebody that you have a relationship with — whether it be business or personal — gives you criticism.  How you react can make a huge difference.

The criticism I speak of is not criticism that you know is coming and expect (and perhaps agree with).  But instead, criticism you receive that you weren’t expecting and that you may not necessarily agree with.

First, it is important to understand that receiving criticism is never fun.  It always affects you.  Some people get angry, others get defensive, some people go inward.  But there is no doubt that it will affect you.  I believe that one of the reasons we react so negatively to such criticism is the fight or flight phenomenon.    This phenomenon comes from our stone age ancestors that had to make instantaneous reactions to threats:  Do we fight or take flight?  We still carry those instincts with us today.  The fight or flight reaction can be triggered when anything threatens us:  Our ego, our self worth, our self perception, and so on.  The modern person’s flight or fight reaction is to defend his or her actions or to take the attack against the beast that dared to threaten us.

Second, there is a difference between criticism by a person who is trying to help and a person who is trying to be destructive.  If you are receiving criticism from someone who is destructive, Buddha has some advice for you.

“A man interrupted one of the Buddha’s lectures with a flood of abuse.Buddha waited until he had finished and then asked him, “If a man offered a gift to another but the gift was declined, to whom would the gift belong?”

“To the one who offered it,” said the man.

“Then,” said the Buddha, “I decline to accept your abuse and request you to keep it for yourself.”  (found at the Postivity Blog).

Sometimes, you have to decline to accept the abusive behavior.  But, How?  It is difficult to say, “I don’t want to hear it.”  But you can listen until they stop.  You can move away from the conversation.  You can also thank them for their thoughts, and tell them that you will consider it.  This does not, however, mean that you accept it, but that you will consider it.  You can choose to reject the advice or criticism.   Sometimes simply thanking the other person will allow them to feel that they have been heard and they can move on.

What, if however, the advice is not destructive but intended to help.  It is important to consider that people who don’t care, don’t give advice or comments.  Think about it, your mother or father criticizes because they care about you; your spouse comments because he or she cares, and a person in business with you who takes the time to criticize cares.  They would like to continue the relationship with you.  They want to make you better.  If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t even bother to take the effort to criticize.

Remember, giving criticism is hard.  People don’t like to give criticism.  Recently, I had 2 separate occasions in two completely different circumstances where I received criticism.  At first, the way that both gave such criticism was “rough.”  It initially set off my fight or flight reaction.  But as I sat down and thought that these two people who I knew very little about took the time to provide me with criticism, my instant fight or flight reaction went away, and I was intrigued to understand the reason for their criticism.

I listened to the criticism intently.  I thanked them for their criticism and then went home and considered it carefully.  In one of the circumstances, after carefully considering the comments, I agreed with some of the criticism but not all of it; Nor did I agree with the conclusion.  But the fact that the person made the comment ultimately reflected the fact that she liked me, wanted to continue to interact with me on other occasions, and needed to make sure that I knew that something I did made her feel uncomfortable.  That criticism was valid, and was more of a plea for help.

In the other circumstance, I again agreed with part of the comment.  I even told the person that I agreed with part of his comment, and appreciated his thoughts.  I suggested that after ruminating on his statement, I understood why he made the comment and appreciated the thought even more.  His response was, “That’s what friends are for.”  What amazed me is that I didn’t consider this person as a friend, but more an acquaintance at that point.  But now we were friends.

As Benjamin Franklin once pointed out, nothing can make a friend faster out of an enemy than the enemy giving you a gift.  Here both persons that I didn’t know too well, now became friends because of the gift of a criticism.

So the score at the end of the day:  Two critiques, Two changes in a part of my behavior, Two Friends.  Not bad for something that could have gone so wrong.