How To Use Criticisms of You to Your Advantage
Janet’s Cape Cod cottage was nearly finished, a small second home which fulfilled her long held dream. Her cozy cottage was the home she hoped to retire to at the end of her IT career in another fifteen years. She was thrilled as her home approached completion.
There was a problem, however. Her mother was coming for a visit and was eager to see her new cottage. Janet was pleased that her mother was taking the trouble to drive several hundred miles to see her dream home. What she dreaded was that her mother was an expert at finding everything that was wrong with something and would certainly do the same with her new house. Janet shuddered to think how her mother’s critique of her dream home might ruin it for her. Instead of feeling proud of her accomplishment she would see her new home as a place full of mistakes and problems. She feared that her excitement would be ruined once her mother finished her inspection.
“You don’t have to let your mother’s criticisms ruin your new home,” I said.
Janet looked at me in disbelief. “What do mean?” she asked. “She’s already ruined many of my accomplishments by finding fault with them. When I would get all A’s in school except for one B in math, she would focus on the B and how I was supposed to turn it into an A. No matter how hard I studied I just couldn’t get an A in math. It was like a shameful stain on my record.”
“That was then and this is now,” I responded. “You’re grown up and more mature.”
“I don’t see how that will change anything,” Janet answered. “My mother is who she is. There’s no changing her.”
“Here’s what I suggest,’ I said. “Tell your mother you are looking forward to her visit so she can inspect your new home. Tell her you have a favor to ask of her. You want her to act like the house inspector. Ask her to make a list of everything she can find wrong with each and every room.”
“Oh my God!” Janet responded. “You’re making this even worse. You’re encouraging her to ruin my pride in my new home.”
“On the contrary,” I responded. “I’m suggesting you put your mother’s critiques to work for you. Make use of her finding problems and use her list with your contractor for your punch list. By finding all the problems she will help you complete your house, and you will leave no stone unturned with the contractor before you make your final payment. Her criticisms can help you.”
Janet’s face brightened. “You’re right,” she said. “In fact I do need help with my punch list. I’ve kind of been dreading making one, thinking it would take away from my good feelings about my cottage. Now I can see how my mother could help me. I will know that all the problems have been addressed. No one else could do a better job.”
“Precisely,” I responded. “Furthermore, you will have invited her criticisms instead of dreading them. Having asked your mother for them it will be much easier to listen to what she says. You can even end up appreciating the help she is giving you instead of allowing her finding faults to ruin your home for you.”
I saw Janet again the following week.
“It worked just like you said it would,” she said. “My mother even commented how much I’d changed. She said that I surprised her when I welcomed her criticisms of my home.” With a smile Janet added: “True to herself my mother said that in the past I’ve not realized that she only wanted to help me.”
The memory of this experience with Janet came into my mind recently when I talked with Peg who was complaining about her boss, Marie.
“All Marie sees,” Peg complained, “is whatever I haven’t done. She doesn’t notice all the things I’ve done well.” Peg felt demoralized by Marie’s fault-finding. More than once Peg considered quitting her job. What stopped was that her financial independence required her to work to have her own income. .
“Instead of feeling so devastated and unappreciated by Marie’s criticisms,” I said,
why don’t you invite Marie to meet with you regularly to share her criticisms with you.”
Peg felt totally perplexed. “Are you out of your mind?” she asked. “I’m already close to quitting because I felt so hurt by her criticisms, and now you suggest I invite them?” She sounded like she thought I had lost my mind.
“What I have in mind is something my client Janet did with her mother critiquing her new house.” I told her the story of Janet’s encouraging her mother to criticize her new home and make a list of everything she found wrong with it.
“You could say to Marie something like this,” I said to Peg. ‘You know, Marie, when I get very busy I forget things at times. I know I do that at home as well as here at work. It would really help me if you would make a list of anything I’ve forgotten to do that day. Instead of bringing the list to me at the end of the day, you could drop in and bring it sooner, or come more than once in a day to tell me. That way when I leave at the end of the day I’ll know I haven’t forgotten anything.”
Peg began to laugh. “I don’t believe you’re encouraging me to invite Marie to be critical and share her criticisms with me,” she said. “But I do see the point. My inviting Marie to be critical of my work takes the sting out of it. It’s almost like a game. I can accept it more easily since I’ve ask her to do it.” After a pause she added, “Really, it is a good idea.”
“You can’t lose this way,” I responded. “If she forgets and doesn’t criticize you so much the better. But if she does come several times a day to criticize you, you just thank you for doing what you’ve asked her to do. And you will know you’ll have left your job each day without overlooking anything you meant to do.”