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Firmly Standing Your Ground in the Face of Criticism
by Alan Sieler

Have you ever been on the receiving end of criticism and felt emotionally attacked –from, for example, a work colleague, boss, friend or spouse? If you have had such an experience one or more times, have you struggled to provide the sort of reply you wanted to and found you have either gone mute and stewed over the experience for days, even weeks? Or have you overreacted in anger that did not bring credit to yourself and still dwelt unhelpfully on the experience?

How would your life be different if you could firmly and constructively stand your ground in the face of the negative opinions others have of you? It is definitely possible and it does not require a magic potion. It requires an in-the-moment combination of how you are in your physiology, in your emotions and how you use language. Before we look at these areas let’s start off with a few perspectives on judgments and criticisms.

Opinions and judgments (or assessments, as they are referred to in Ontological Coaching) are an integral part of humans being languaging beings. We can’t not make assessments – we are opinion-making machines. One thing that can be sadly missing is not taking responsibility for the judgments we say and write – we can just “put it out there” as though it is our right to do so without considering the consequences.

We certainly have the right to speak and write opinions, but we also have the responsibility to use these in a socially constructive manner. However, there are four things we rarely understand.

All too often, we inadvertently allow people to get away with making unsubstantiated judgments of us, especially negative ones. We all have the potential to embody and put into practice the above four principles as we listen to the judgments others make of us. We also have the potential to embody and put into practice another key principle, which is the central theme of this article. This theme is being able to respectfully ask the speaker to be accountable for what they have said about you.

Let us now consider crucial aspects of our Way of Being that will position you to firmly hold your ground by respectfully asking the speaker to be accountable for what they have said.

Physiology

It all starts with the body. It doesn’t matter if you have very sophisticated statements and questions, you are unlikely to be able to use them in the moment of criticism if you do not have a solidly grounded postural configuration.

You are encouraged to see and feel yourself as a sturdy tree, capable of swaying in a strong breeze but sufficiently grounded not to be uprooted. Feel your feet fully in contact with the ground, weight slightly forward and imagine you have roots growing into the ground from under your feet, so that someone could firmly push one of your shoulders but you would not lose balance.

Unfortunately too many of us can be already on the back foot in our posture because our weight is predominantly distributed at the back of the feet, so we can not only be easily pushed off balance physically, but in a conversation we can be somewhat of a pushover.

Ensure your knees are comfortably bent, that your pelvis is aligned under your shoulders, you feel firm in your stomach without artificially pulling it tight, that you feel a full expansion across the top of your chest and that your head feels like a balloon lightly floating on top of your spine, with a relaxed jaw.

From this postural arrangement and staying on the one spot, allow yourself to flow and sway, like a tree in a strong breeze or like an underwater plant that maintains its footing as waves and currents pass by.

Emotion/Mood

Perhaps you feel somatically strong in the above posture, feeling good about yourself. Perhaps you feel fully worthy and legitimate without being contaminated by self-doubt. Could it be that being fully in touch with your legitimacy and dignity as a person is important in responding to criticism?

What combination of emotions and moods accompany being in touch with your legitimacy, dignity and worthiness? Could it be that curiosity and a mood of Wonder about what is going on with the speaker could be helpful? Would a mood of Acceptance be helpful, accepting what has been said to you and legitimising the other person without going straight to being angry or hurt or fearful about their words? And how would it be if you felt quietly determined, even a steely determination that came from a strong backbone, not allowing someone to get away with stating their views without justifying them?

What would it be like if you had a combination of the above ways of feeling about yourself and feeling within yourself? Will you allow yourself to have this personal power? It might be a bit scary because it is very unfamiliar or foreign. How could you gradually allow yourself to become comfortable with feeling this way and knowing this can be normal?

Language

The key to your language is asking questions and the manner in which you ask them. While we may feel attacked by others’ comments, staying curious, calm, composed and determined is likely to ensure that we use language appropriately in a tone of voice that is not hostile or feeble. Speak from your solar plexus like speaking from the trunk of the tree.

The power of well-asked questions is that they are respectfully made requests for a response in the form of an answer. This is why a mood of Wonder is so important, which includes being curious about what we can learn from the other person’s perspective. And feeling determined is crucial because it positions you to require specific responses to your questions.

Here is a repertoire of questions you can draw on to ask to ensure that the speaker is clear that you want them to be accountable for their opinion(s) of you.

Now it is fully recognised that the wording of the above questions may not be career enhancing in dealing with feedback from your manager! Nevertheless, variations of many of them can be used so that you and the manager have clarity about where he or she is coming from and that you have a specific understanding of potentially valuable learning opportunities for improvement.

Cultivating the suggested combination of physiology, emotions and language in this article is not just a matter of developing a nifty technique – it can be a Way of Being for how you engage with life.

Questions for application

It is suggested that you practice the above points with a friend playing the role of criticising you.

Best wishes for many successful applications. Your feedback on your efforts to apply the ideas in this article will be appreciated.

© Newfield Institute

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