Recently, a group of ladies and I got into a discussion about conflict and confrontation. Several of the women expressed their extreme discomfort with any kind of conflict.
"I just break down and cry," one shared. "I don't know how to handle negativity."
We women struggle with two main areas of potential conflict:
Fortunately, there are ways to receive criticism graciously and to confront others lovingly. Today, I'd like to focus on the first area: How to receive criticism without letting it spoil your day.
"Women are so sensitive!" a man once told me. "I try to be kind and thoughtful, but it seems like women are so easily offended or upset. What's a guy to do?"
This man was one of the most mild, easy-going, nonjudgmental men I know. If he felt intimidated by female emotions, I was certain that less diplomatic men must feel entirely inept in this area.
Truthfully, we ladies need to grow a thicker skin. Mom often said during my pubescence: "Buck up, girly. Life isn't fair. If you don't get used to it, you'll be one unhappy woman." Mom knew this from experience, and, although I hated her advice at the time, it was very valuable to me later.
I'm not downplaying the difficulty of receiving verbal slaps. Trust me, I've dealt with some very unpleasant personalities. But in a way, it's been good for me. It has taught me strength and control of my emotions. It's natural to feel like crying or like yelling back. But there is power in remaining calm and controlled during an out-of-control situation. It makes you the true master of the situation.
Look beyond the method of communication to the message.
A man once admitted to me, "I used to ignore what my father said, because I didn't like how he said it. Now that he is gone, I wish I had listened more. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I had listened for the truth in the message instead of getting frustrated with his method of communication."
This is wise. Often, when I am on the receiving end of someone's very poor communication style, I remind myself to consider the message itself. Is there any truth in what is being said? What can I apply to my life? No, it's not easy. Yes, it takes lots of practice and humility.
I have found that this method is effective in growing me emotionally and spiritually, and in helping me to appreciate whatever good may be mixed in with the bad.
Communicate appreciation back.
"You know," I said. "What you are saying makes sense. I can see why I frustrated you when I did that. I apologize and I appreciate your bringing the matter to my attention."
Never mind that the criticism may have been unkind or unfair in some way. If I can see truth in the criticism, one of the best ways to respond is simply to show appreciation for what I have learned, regardless of the tone of the teacher. Yup, sometimes I'd much rather defend myself. But teaching someone a better communication style is not best done once he or she is already angry.
And you know what? Often when I use this approach of appreciation, the situation diffuses quickly. The other person feels like he or she has been heard, and I (oddly enough) feel that I have gained some value from the conversation.
A few notes...
In all of this, I am not saying that it's okay to accept a situation that is truly abusive. I am not saying that you just have to knuckle under and accept criticism all the time; sometimes you have a right to feel upset or defend yourself.
But I am saying that sometimes our feminine sensitivity blinds us to better ways of responding to and viewing the situation. Maybe there's a truth we've missed. Maybe there's something we can do better. Maybe we're feeling upset even when the other person is actually being quite gentle.
How do you accept criticism? What do you find the most challenging? What response have you found effective?
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.