The following is a transcription of Voice of Bold Business Radio Program 30: Receiving Criticism.

Program Notes Can be Found Here.

Transcript of Program 30: Receiving Criticism

Jessica: This is the voice of Bold Business Radio and I am your host Jessica Dewell of Red Direction. You’re listening to Program 30, Receiving Criticism. While our emotions matter, the reactions we have can get in the way of hearing and connecting with the person that’s sharing with us. Solicited or not, feedback, and especially criticism can be hard. Being able to sit in a space with another person that is sharing something that’s hard for us to hear means there really is something for us to hear within that message. We don’t want to have to ‘check’ our reactions. We want to recognize though that there is something here for us to understand. There’s a place for gratitude in interactions like this when we are receiving or giving criticism. Even if it doesn’t seem like it very much at all. We want to be curious about what we hear, and we want to make sure that we understand the root of the criticism and where it’s coming from. Time is always on our side. If we need a break, we can take it, and come back to the conversation later. Let the person know we need some space to process, and commit to reconnect and   follow-up, and then do it. Because if you don’t, that’s a whole other conversation. 

My friend Stephanie Bryan recently reminded me of a video I had seen and forgotten about that actually illustrates the difference between empathy and sympathy. Two words that are sometimes interchanged, yet mean very different things. I believe empathy, building the connection with others, is the cornerstone of being able to give and receive criticism, and understand how we like to give and receive criticism.

In just a few moments, we will meet, and hear what today’s ‘Leaders Discuss’ panel has to say about giving and receiving criticism.

Announcer (amid background music): Welcome to The Voice of Bold Business, the show that provides everything that smart leaders need to evaluate situations, build relationships, and create solutions. Jessica Dewell candidly talks about the skills necessary to build tenacity, and do more with less. And now, here’s Jessica:

Jessica: I cannot believe we are here again today with two very very amazing people. First off, we have Geoffrey X. Lane back with us today. He is a tell it like it is consultant and coach with a sense of humor, and it’s a good one ladies and gentlemen. Just watch and see. You will see. He brings humor about himself and the life, and to his work, which he absolutely loves. He knows that his point of view might not be the ultimate truth, or even close to it, yet people enjoy to hear and learn and can receive information from him in a way, and he gets paid for it. He is still learning to show up, and he really hates ‘the BS’.

Also with us is Donna Daniell. Since 2003 she has received extensive training and experience in mindfulness based healing processes called “Internal family systems therapy”. It uses somatic body-mind techniques to bring about lasting change from trauma and attachment issues. She has been in private practice as a family therapist and a woman’s wellness coach in the Boulder-Longmont area for the last 27 years. She received her Masters Degree in Social Work from Denver University, and today, Donna’s being pulled towards developing new programs that will connect, heal, and empower women. Donna, Geoffrey, hello!

GEOFFREY: Good Morning!

DONNA: Hi!

JESSICA: I tell you what, we are in for it today. I was preparing for this panel, and I’m so glad the two of you offered to join me, because, this is a hard topic. When we have to hold up this mirror to ourselves about criticism, it can be a little scary to look at ourselves. It’s easier to look outward.

So the question I asked you guys to come prepared to answer is, ‘How do you like to receive and give criticism?’

DONNA: Ok. Well, this is a very tender subject for me Jessica. I have never liked to receive criticism in my whole life. I had parents who were very critical and judgmental. I had to be perfect, in order to feel that I was okay. Criticism triggers a lot of stuff for me. I’ve worked really hard in my life to learn how to take it in, and not have those reactions, and learn how to be able to notice that it really is helpful to get criticism and feedback. I like to think of it as feedback rather than criticism, because that feels better to me. The work that I’ve done in my life in terms of learning about compassion and empathy, and relationships both within yourself, with yourself and with others, has given me a lot of help in terms of how to help myself with criticism, and how to help others.

For me the relationship is key. What I mean by that is, I have to have a relationship with someone in order to give them feedback or criticism. It’s very important to know that this person is going to hear me and be willing to take in what I am having to say, because they know who I am, and we have a relationship. I don’t think it’s healthy to give criticism to people who you don’t have a relationship with, number one. So that relationship piece is so key to knowing that you could possibly take it in, and that somebody could possibly give it to you, which is the hardest part, right? Taking it in.

So how do I like to receive it? I like to receive it from people like you, who care about me, and who know me and who appreciate and understand who I am. Then I feel I can really hear it. So building a relationship with someone and building that foundation where you get to know each other really in a whole holistic and beautiful way gives the foundation for things like feedback to happen. Then we can really help each other that way. That’s really the key for me.

JESSICA: Awesome. Well, thank you. All right Geoffrey, how about you?

GEOFFREY: One of the things I am going to do later today is I am going to meet 52 executives who are flying in to the airport. Then at the airport hotel we’re spending from 11 o’clock until 9 o’clock tonight really working on our communication skills and leadership skills. I set that sort of frame, where my mind is. In business, you often you do not have the opportunity to develop tremendous relationships. What you have is relationships, what I call ‘functional relationships’, that are based around a specific function and a specific activity to get a result. So it is very ‘results’ orientated. It’s not necessarily ‘people’ orientated. So how can you do that, if you’re in an office, or you’re on a factory floor and you’ve got a line worker who needs feedback now about a function because otherwise it’s going to disrupt the line, a sit-down cup of tea isn’t going to work. It has to be now and it has to be succinct and it has to be clean and it has to be effective. So that’s a very different perspective in the work field.

I use, and you might have remembered this Jessica, I use a model of ‘What worked? What did not work? What can we do differently?’ What that does is it takes the personality aspect away from the person, it leaves them intact, to have their feelings and to be themselves. It’s very good for talking about function. So I can say “Look, 90% of what you are doing is working. This, this, this, this.” It’s kind of like a muffin with a big cream top. You talk about what worked, and then you get to the core of it, right? Then you talk about, this did not work. But the idea is not to ever blame it on a personal level, but to talk about it as a function. “So this is what did not work.” Then, give an opportunity for the person you’re giving feedback to, to participate. “So, what can we do differently?” Then, you come to a solution, you come to a way of arriving, how to get past where you’re going. That can be done very quickly. Under the pressures of business, speed matters. It really matters.

When you have an employee who might have just blown up one of your best customers, because they don’t understand communication or because of what they’ve done, it becomes radically important to get it right, and quickly, but in a respectful way. Now, myself, as you know, I’m a ‘tell it like it is’ guy, so I had to learn this, because otherwise, I would kind of treat them like bad puppies, “Hey! Look at what you’ve done!”, rub their nose in it. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for puppies either. That’s how I was brought up. I was brought up, x r e f (9:40), direct feedback, everything was orders and criticisms and daily schedules. So I understand the sensitivity of it, but in business, it’s not about sensitivity, it’s about results. But in a way that is respectful for the person you’re dealing with. The challenge is, how do you do that? So that’s the model I use.

Now, I personally like you to just lay it out. At 71, you can’t tell me much that I haven’t already discovered about myself. There’s a lot of stuff that I like and don’t like about myself, so hey, you can say it. If it rings true with me, I’ll listen to it. Most of the time, when somebody is giving me feedback…particularly feedback I haven’t asked for, or isn’t functional, I know it’s all about them. It’s not about me. They’re using an opportunity to express something to me, that they see, probably in themselves. So I would rather have it, “Hey, come on!”

JESSICA: Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t try and sugar-coat it too much. Here’s the thing that I am going to say right now, and I will probably repeat it one more time during the show, because it is just sooo important…This whole concept of just ‘sandwiching’ the problem between ‘not so problem oriented things’ is usually they are compliments. They are not actually helpful. So you have all this nice wishy washy stuff, “Oh, you’re such a nice person. By the way, this really sucks what you’re doing. Oh, but you’re still this really nice person.” That’s actually contradictory.

GEOFFREY: That’s crap by the way.

JESSICA: So we are going to come back to that. Yeah, it is crap. But that’s how most of us have learned how to give feedback. Donna brought this up, and this is very interesting. The visceral reaction to the word criticism, and making us cringe and go “Uggggghhhh”, and switching it out for something like feedback. So words matter, and knowing that words have meaning, I would love for each of you to take a minute and just tell me what the differences are for you, and maybe how you would define the differences, so that we can be using that when we’re approaching people and how they may react to certain things, and we can meet them where they’re at.

DONNA: I would talk about it in terms of how things feel to them, and ask them what they’re noticing, are they comfortable with how things are going, and really let it be their bringing their desire to get feedback on the surface, so that they’re open and curious by that point, so it’s not coming from me, I am just creating the opportunity for them to want feedback.

JESSICA: We’ll put this in context. Everybody, Donna and I know each other from Business and Professional Women, and we both have, or have had different leadership roles within the organization. What if I wasn’t doing my job as the Vice President of Programs? What if I was letting things slip? What if, and so you’re not helping me discover things about myself, you have to actually give me a criticism and get me to change for the good of our BPW chapter?

DONNA: That’s exactly what I would do Jessica, and I would do it in that kind of leadership capacity. I would ask “Jessica, how are you feeling about how this job is going? What are you struggling with? What help do you need? What’s going on for you?” Because then it is up to you to give me information that you want feedback. And I can say “I can give you some ideas if you want some”.

Now we are dealing with a non-profit. We are dealing with an organization. We’re not dealing with a company, and we’re not dealing with bottom-line issues here. This is more about growing people and supporting and mentoring people. So it’s a different context than what you all are talking about in the workplace.

JESSICA: Oh, I want to challenge that.

GEOFFREY: I want to challenge it very much.

JESSICA: I think it’s always about the development of people. Always.

GEOFFREY: Always.

DONNA: I think it’s the relationship that’s key also. Building the relationship so they can feel productive and they can feel useful.

JESSICA: Ok, I love that, yep. Alright Geoffrey, how would you define feedback and criticism?

GEOFFREY: I do use occasionally feedback. I never use the word criticism because it is so emotionally loaded. I don’t want to trigger emotion in people. That’s not my role. What I do want to trigger is thoughtfulness and awareness about the behavior or the actions. Often people do what they do because that is all they know. So that’s my premise when I use the position of… this is what worked, this is what didn’t work. I’m making the assumption, there is something you don’t know here. What is it you don’t know that I can help you with so that you can run your meetings better or put this together better? I take the personality and feeling pieces out of the equation. If somebody wants to talk about it on a feeling level, then I make that a completely different conversation. When you are giving feedback, or criticism, in any party, even with family members, if you’re going to give them feedback, you need to frame it in such a way that the individual is going to ‘buy in’, that they’re going to converse with you, they’re going to communicate with you. If you label it as criticism, and even if you say now the word feedback is getting as loaded as criticism, so I often say, “Let’s go through the three W’s”. Anybody who’s worked with me or been in one of my workshops knows that my three W’s is a fabulous communication (15:38) “What worked here?” Then I get the person to describe it. I don’t do the talking. Then I’ll say, “What did not work?” I won’t tell them what didn’t work. I’ll get them to describe it, and then I’ll say, “What else did you notice?” What I want to do is bring awareness to that person, not hurt them. I kind of try to de-personalize it in a way. Then I say, “Can we do it differently?” I won’t lead it, I’ll ask them. The idea is to give them an opportunity for discovery, so that they can take the next step. Now, if I have to come back to them and talk about it, I’ll say, “Let’s talk about the three W’s that we talked about, and the fact that you haven’t taken your next steps.” Now, if you’re an employer, and you’re a coach of some form or another. I learnt so much coaching my son’s soccer. But being that kind of coach, I’ve got to say, at a certain point, you’ve got to ask for accountability. You have to ask for… when? Now? Is it now? Is it this week? What do you need? I think in a way, we mess people up if we get too touchy-feely. Because we invite, often, the element of parent-child reaction. That is inappropriate in any adult situation, if you invite that. I try and keep it at very much equals. But you know, if I’m the boss, which most people who are listening to this program are a boss, and they might have an employee, you don’t want to give away that you’re the boss. It’s not about being friends. I think that’s one of the great myths in our society right now is that everybody should like you. Winston Churchill said “You don’t get good work from friends”. You don’t.

JESSICA: One of the things that you said Geoffrey was, when it’s unsolicited feedback, right, ‘Oh, I recognize I’m getting criticism here’, it’s all about them.  I’d like to take a look in to that, because sometimes, it takes a lot of courage to step up and share something that’s been on our mind that has been bothering us about somebody else, regardless of where they are in our relationships in our world. If we just start with when we receive unsolicited feedback, first it takes courage to actually speak up and say something. Two, we already know we’re reacting because we recognize that we’re being criticized. Then three, we know it’s all about them.

How do you guys engage in that un-solicited feedback?

DONNA: My basic reaction is to try to remember that it might not be what I’ve done, it might be that it’s coming from them, and to try to just hear. Hear them out and try to hold my reaction, and not get defensive. If I need to come back and talk about it later, that’s a possibility, and often times, that’s better. I suggest that to my clients when I talk to them about this issue, because it’s an issue that everybody has.

But it’s really important, what you both have said, that it’s really not always about something you’ve done, it’s the other person’s being triggered by you, and they don’t understand what’s going on, and so they give it back to you. They give it back to you in a pretty intense way, and it jolts you, and you’re like ‘Oh! What happened?’ And so, that’s the interaction that you want to use mindfulness and pull apart and not react, and be able to stop, notice your reactions, and notice what just happened, and maybe move away from the situation, and then come back and respond to it.

GEOFFREY: Okay, I have a different point of view here.

JESSICA: This is going to be good. I knew I was going to ask at least one question where we would get the whole spectrum, and here it is ladies and gentlemen!

GEOFFREY: If somebody is giving me feedback… unsolicited feedback… comes up to me and says, “I’m going to give you some feedback Geoffrey”, the first thing I will do is say, “Shut up. Go away and think about it before you do it.” Then I’ll listen. I’ll listen. But I don’t think you give automatic permission to people to criticize you. I don’t think you give automatic permission for people to attack you. I don’t think it’s okay for people to dump on you. In fact, you had better have better boundaries than that. But if they start doing it, tell them to shut up! Get in their face! It’s sometimes an opportunity for some people to vent their internal rage and frustration that you’re not being the way they want you to be. You’re being yourself, and they don’t like it. Well tough titty! You don’t like it, so what. This is the way I am.

As you know, I have been on this path of ‘showing up’, it must be over 30 years now. I started using this term ‘show up’ in the middle of the pursuit of excellence, way back, when I was about 42. A lot of people, have your own best interests at heart. They might not have the skills, they might care about you, and if it’s my wife or my daughter or my son, or Carol Lee who I work with, or Johnathan I work with, I know their character enough that if they said “I’d like to give you some feedback”, I will quietly listen, because they’ve got something important to say to me. Some issue that they have. And I know that it’s their issue, not mine, but it might be a behavior that I can change. So, I’m interested.

I watched a form of road rage at the airport. You know what airports are like, right? Busy, crowded, rushing, time standing waiting to get on the plane, and this guy comes running, “Get out of the way! You’re blocking the way! Blah blah blah, You’re the typical blah blah blah” And I thought, that’s interesting. And he started to get in to a rant, and I said, “This is not right man. Just shut up.” Now, it turns out, he was sitting next to me in business class.

All laugh

JESSICA: Well, you set your boundaries!

GEOFFREY: We had a longggg conversation to Denver.

JESSICA: Oh that was good.

GEOFFREY: He’ll never ever do it again, dumping on people. But sometimes people say, “Oh, I’ve got some feedback for you, I really want to tell you what I think”. Well, frame it first. Get the context of what they want to talk about. “What is it that you want to talk about?”

JESSICA: What is the purpose of saying it out loud? Because one thing that I know about Geoffrey, and that if you have heard any of our conversations in the past, he shares how his brashness and his up-frontness and his ‘tell it like it is’ left a wake of relationships behind him. I think we’re afraid of that. I think in general, we are afraid of that. We all don’t have that particular super-power that Geoffrey does, of ‘I’m just going to be who I am, and I am who I am’. When we do frame where our mind is, it changes. It changes how we show up, it changes how we respect the other person, and ensuring we’re respecting the other person, and it changes that we are fostering connection, through empathy, and not out of this blind need to change a person. Because we are curious about who they are, without any judgement around who they are, and we are seeking to understand something new from our own reaction and inquiry.

When you are faced with having to give somebody criticism, whatever the situation is. It could be a parent to a child, it could be a boss to an employee, it could be an employee to a boss, it could be a volunteer to a volunteer, it could be somebody in an organization to a volunteer, we have allll these relationships. How do we frame what we want to set our intention, to share something that is necessary to be shared to deepen our relationship, and to further our work together.

GEOFFREY: I find that a trick question.

JESSICA: Oh, okay. I didn’t mean it to be.

GEOFFREY: I’ll tell you where I find it tricky.

JESSICA: I’m excited. Yeah, tell me.

GEOFFREY: You used the word friendship. And I hear this a lot. I don’t want to be friends with everyone.

JESSICA: Right. But sometimes it is friendship.

GEOFFREY: I want to be respectful. I’ll give everybody profound respect. I’ll take care of people. I’ll make sure that they’re okay and not abused. But I don’t need, or want to be friends with everyone. That’s what the trick thing is. In every organization or every situation, there is the functional aspect, and then there is the friend’s energy.

My friend Stan would say “Well, I think I want to talk to you about this”, and he would just kind of go. But, you know, Stan and I have been hanging out together for 17 years. I know exactly how his mind works, and sometimes I will say “Oh, you didn’t like that”, and he will say, “Oh, you knew”, and I said, “Yeah”, and then he’ll laugh and say, “You don’t really care do you?”, and I would say, “Well, I care about you, because you’re my friend, but I don’t think that that is really an important issue, for me. But it is for you, and if it is, ok, that will change.”

I think one of the great lies in business, and I did a lot of volunteering until a few years ago, but even in volunteering, is this term in business, ‘it’s family’. It is not family!

JESSICA: Right.

GEOFFREY: That is so loaded. That is such a trap.

JESSICA: We think about how we treat our family, and our expectations of our family, and usually, it is a lower standard than anybody else in our whole world. So why would we lower the standard for the people that we are working together with on some common goal?

GEOFFREY: Well, that’s interesting, because I treat my family exactly the same.

JESSICA: I think there is this inherent assumption. They see your warts, you expect them to be in your brain, you expect not to have to explain yourself very well, you can just do whatever you’re going to do, and people are going to react however they are going to react, and a lot of people don’t care when it comes to their family. I’m not one of those people. I used to be like that. It was a conscious effort to change, and say “You know what, everybody needs respect. It doesn’t matter if they are living in the same house with me. It doesn’t matter if they are my extended family. It doesn’t matter if they are strangers on the street. It doesn’t matter if I am working with them, or the people that I haven’t met yet and I’m supposed to meet.” There is this thing, and you’re right, I think that’s where that family piece comes in, it’s just the way that it is. We are really not going to peel back the covers too far. We’re not quite sure we want to see what’s in there, so we’re just going to call it family. I think that that’s a very important point that you brought up Geoffrey. What would you add to that Donna?

DONNA: Well, I think that’s absolutely right. Putting things in a family context absolutely takes people in to their bottom drawer instead of ‘their best self’, and that’s exactly what we don’t want to create. We want to help people in the workplace and in their lives, learn how to be who they can really truly be in their best self, and creating that environment where they can learn how to do that and practice that. Going back home is usually taking people backwards rather than forward.

GEOFFREY: Absolutely. I think one of the other challenges that is connected to feedback or criticism is that we’ve lost track of personal accountability. I do coach senior executives, and this particular executive started to say “We do this, and we do that”. I said, “Who?” Then we spent an hour working on language structure because this person said “We do this, we do that”. No, there are seventeen staff in their department and their senior financial analyst, there is no “we” in it. They lead it. They’re responsible.

JESSICA: And where does the buck stop? And will we own it? I have to tell you, all of the things that we’ve talked about, whether they are our triggers, whether it’s working with words like criticism and feedback, personal accountability, our respect, ownership… all of these things that we have mentioned here, are skills. They require constant attention. These skills need to be cultivated. They require our focus and our prioritization so that we can continue to work on deepening our relationships in whatever facet of our life we are, whatever our boundaries around those relationships are, and, I can’t wait to listen to this again, because this is absolutely, positively, amazing information, and we could actually have a Part 2 of this sometime in the future. So beware, other trigger words, other highly emotionally leveraged words that bring baggage, and all kinds of awesome colors to a conversation we didn’t even know were possible, are something to watch out for, be aware of, and stay curious about.

The question I want to leave you, our audience with today; As a leader, what have you found that does work to be able to both functionally and respectfully, and relationship oriented and respectfully, give and receive feedback and criticism. What do you like and what do you not like about it. Thank you. We’ll see you next time. Because we want to know, as a leader today, what are your tips to receive criticism?

Announcer – Subscribe at voiceofboldbusiness.com and get more information, program notes, and past episodes. Bold leaders approach each situation and focus on action to achieve a higher level of leadership. Jessica Dewell, your business advocate is the host of The Voice of Bold Business Radio. Thank you for joining us.