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Getting To Grips With Criticism & Conflict

The key to changing your pattern of dealing with conflict and criticism is to evaluate what your default responses in these situations are. The key to changing your pattern of dealing with conflict and criticism is to assess what your default responses are in these situations.

Do you pre-empt conflict and criticism? This means that you may believe that you sense the onset of conflict/criticism and you then you have responses that essentially ward off or limit the amount of conflict/criticism that you experience. This can include saying things to people as if to excuse in advance whatever you think that it is about you that could be bringing about conflict. E.g. putting you down, or people-pleasing because you believe that they can’t or won’t say or do anything when you’re being so understanding and giving or excusing shady behaviour, sabotaging so you can have a quick exit, suppressing your true feelings and opinions, apologising even when you don’t need to and more.

Do you try to silence them? This can form part of pre-empting conflict and criticism, or it may be that at the actual time of them happening, your responses are around shutting it down. This means that you might become aggressive, tell them all about themselves, or bail. You may cut people off for periods of time and only return if you can pick up from where you feel most comfortable with – i.e. pretending like the issue didn’t happen.

Do you have a meltdown? This has an element of silencing conflict because your response likely distracts from the actual issue at hand. The other party may be afraid of pushing it further or may even feel guilty. Your response likely comes from anxiety, panic, and doing what you think works because it’s all that you know. It may not be a conscious mandate, but on some level, you do recognise that it’s going to dilute the conflict, or at least it will until the other person realises what is happening.

Do you have a default feeling of ‘hurt’? If each time you experience any form of conflict or criticism, you claim to feel ‘hurt’ or ‘rejected’, it means that you’re not only mislabelling your feelings but are also treating any and all forms of conflict and criticism as an ‘attack’ on who you are as a person. This also means that you don’t take on board any feedback or working through stuff.

Do you try to avoid all conflict and criticism? You’ll know you do this if you’ve basically been a people-pleasing doormat who has completely silence their own needs, expectations and desires. When you experience conflict and criticism, you feel offended, rejected and hurt because by allowing all manner of things to be said and done without asserting yourself, you don’t feel that the favour is being repaid. You hold back how you really feel – why aren’t they? If you tend to send emails, letters, and texts, watch out – you are being conflict-and-criticism avoidant. It’s part distancing yourself and part trying to control the situation.

Are you combative? When you see conflict at every turn and always seem to be in the next big drama in your life, it’s because there are no ‘levels’ to your responses to conflict. You might tell people all about themselves, or experience something and confront them on issues even though there might not be an issue and you may actually have got the wrong end of the stick. You may fight dirty or just be very hung up on ‘making’ people see your point of view, which brings me neatly to…

Are you a dog with a bone? When you can argue for hours, days, weeks, months, or even years on end, it’s because you don’t like to let things go. You’d probably only consider letting things go if you felt that the other parties had 100% fulfilled all of the criteria for doing so. You keep coming up with new points for the argument, bringing up ‘old stuff’ that people may have previously thought was resolved until it’s now fresh or that you didn’t bring up at the time. Or you appear to let things go while simmering, and then they make one false move and it’s like a match chucked on petrol.

If you have tended to feel afraid of conflict and criticism or have a pattern of under or over-responding, make sure that you work through the modules and understand the origins, associations, and beliefs behind the issue so that you have a stronger awareness of your cues and triggers. Here are some tips for altering your responses:

1. It’s critical to accept that conflict and criticism/feedback are unavoidable.

Learning how to navigate these will help you to grow as a person and strengthen your interpersonal relationships. If you think that you can have a No Conflict/Feedback/Criticism Lifestyle, you’re actually setting you up for pain. And the reality is, you have needs, expectations and wishes, and if you don’t practice dealing with these in real life situations and grow out of the insights gained, you are suppressing who you are and limiting your experiences.

2. You don’t have to see evil and battles in everything though.
It’s one thing if you’re around people who are abusing/taking advantage of you, which is a separate issue in itself, but treating anyone who you have a potential conflict with or who expresses criticism or even feedback as ‘the enemy’ is going to create a hell of a lot of unnecessary drama in your life. Not everyone is out to screw you over.

3. Treat each individual situation as a unique situation and react to the present, not to the past.
My reaction to conflict in adulthood was me basically responding to every conflict as if I was in battle with my mother. Not appropriate and actually, it was quite OTT in a lot of circumstances. The only person who is my mother is my mother. If when you get into a C-Situation (conflict/criticism) you are already thinking about previous experiences and feeling like you’re a child again and feel like old wounds are being reopened, this is CODE RED ALERT telling you to step back and get present. It’s like “Wake up!” Even if it means that you have to step out for a few minutes, get some air and compose yourself, regain consciousness and plant your feet and your head back in reality. If you are spiralling, you are not listening.

Keep working on any issues from the past that impact how you deal with conflict and criticism. I made things easy for myself by only becoming worried with those who have shown themselves to not handle conflict well or who have crossed my boundaries with their criticism. For everyone else, I use my credit and debit trust system and deal with situations as they arise which means I spend none of my time worrying about what isn’t happening or what ‘might’ happen or trying to anticipate what’s next.

It’s too much of a blanket rationale to go “This person is criticising me, and my mother used to criticise me, and I felt bad, so this person is out to get me”. They are two entirely different situations, and if you default to responding in a child-to-adult manner, you miss out on the opportunity to handle things in a mature and empowering way.

If you know that you’re responding to everyone in the same way that you do with a parent/caregiver/ex-bully, make it a priority to address the hurt there so that you can treat everything else as individual situations.

4. Observe/listen without judgment.
Very typical scenario – you’re in a conflict situation, you start to feel anxious, maybe they say something. I’m so stupid. They obviously hate me. Force yourself to listen to what is being said without making a judgment about you. You can actually experience a situation, listen, speak, observe without having to make some harsh judgment about you or even the other person. It’s like they say something and because you perceive it to be a C-Situation, you think “Assclown.” Now when all is said and done, you may well end up drawing that conclusion, but if you’ve made up your mind about you or them within seconds or minutes, you are not listening to and processing a damn thing from that moment onwards.

5. Speak, do not write.
I am genuinely concerned with what seems to be an increase in people using texts, IM, email, and letter writing to ‘deal’ with conflict. While they can seem like the ‘ideal’ way because you think you can protect your vulnerabilities, they’re not. Arguing or having a discussion via texts and IM in particular are ridiculous, disrespectful and not an emotionally mature way of handling things. And email and letter writing are in fact passive aggressive and even aggressive at times especially if sent in haste or to express anger or to cause offence.

Stick with a simple rule that will keep you out of trouble: never write anything that you couldn’t or wouldn’t say to someone’s face, especially if it’s a C-Situation.

It’s passive aggressive when you avoid opportunities to step up for yourself yet then try to have full control by putting it in writing where there is no conversation, and it’s ‘less vulnerable’. Remember that these are your thoughts, opinions and feelings, but that written communication is very open to tone and sometimes when people read other people’s anger, especially when it’s been sent in haste, it can be quite a blow.

If you do choose to write, it should ideally be after a verbal conversation – I can tell you from experience that it’s not a nice thing to get a ‘surprise’ message from someone.

If someone sends you a message, pick up the phone to them or reply and request to meet/speak.

Note that if the other party is passive aggressive, they may try to avoid speaking to you but if you don’t participate, they’ll either have to face it or you’ll see them disappear.

6. Don’t enter into these situations as the victim or the defender.
The former will have you feeling attacked almost immediately but feeling powerless to do anything about it, and the latter will have you feeling attacked almost immediately and you’ll be ready for battle. Get your relationship with you sorted out and practice saying a few things to yourself when you’re faced with a C-Situation.

7. Do a time-out. For you.
I have a rule that keeps me out of a lot of trouble – when someone sends me an email that gets on my nerves, upsets, angers, or offends me, I do not ever send the first reply. Sometimes I write one, put it in drafts and then go back to it, but basically, I always go about my business and leave it for at least a few hours where perspective will kick in. If you don’t trust yourself to speak immediately, make your excuses and come back to it when you’re calmer.

8. Do not stew on criticism and conflict.
If and when you get around to dealing with them, you’ll be like a pressure cooker ready to explode. If you’re going to think about it, that time should be used to work out why you’re pissed off/upset. You would be amazed at how many people stew over a C-Situation, and all they do is think 1) that the other people are %$£@! and 2) judge themselves.

Work out exactly why you’re annoyed. Look beyond the feeling. It’s all very well going “I’m hurt” but where is this really coming from?

9. Stick to 3-5 main points.
If you’ve got an issue with someone, while it’s great to be able to fill up a one-hour episode of a chat show with the whole issue, get down to the nitty-gritty of what the issue is. If you have a long list of offences, it’s pretty overwhelming and for the person on the other end, what becomes clear is that you’re a Storer who has been pissed off with them for a while but has waited, for whatever reason, before speaking up. Most people will take some level of offence at this no matter what your reasoning is.

10. You can refer to a previous incident to illustrate why this is an issue now, but don’t raise old issues for the first time in a new argument.
It’s what’s known as “bringing up old shit”. My mother will bring up stuff from fifteen years ago! We won’t even entertain this now not least because we can barely even bring up something from last week!

11. It’s not always possible to react calm and composed in a C-Situation.
That’s the truth. Sometimes the situation is just too much, and you explode, and you know what? As long as you’re not crossing into rage, which is different to anger, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. You are human, and it’s not about having the perfect response. That said, learn to know when to wind your neck in. I know when I’m in that zone, and for the sake of myself and not wanting to have too many things to apologise for, I step away because the truth is, I know that because I’m pissed off, I will say things I don’t mean in the heat of the moment. I’d rather say things that I do mean when I’m a bit calmer.

12. Remember that it is totally OK to be angry.
You are allowed to be angry. It’s rage that you need to be concerned about which is when you are unable to control your anger. The best way to avoid rage is not to be passive to the point that one day someone does that one thing too many and you erupt. When you do this, you then end up feeling like anger is ‘bad’ and go back to being passive again. You also end up feeling ashamed about your reaction.

Deal with situations as and when they come up – some will not require you to ‘do’ anything because you work through them on your own, realise that it’s not an attack on you or what the true situation is, and others will require some level of response.

13. Don’t try to control other people’s responses.
People have their own thoughts, feelings, fears etc., and like you, may have their own issues around conflict and criticism. Don’t prescribe the response and the outcome because you will give you a hard time when you really don’t need to if they don’t play ball. They have their feelings, you have yours. Say your piece and let the chips fall where they may. Don’t try to make them see your point of view – if you’re not getting anywhere, you’ve got to step away. When things have calmed down, you may be able to have a calmer, clearer discussion.

14. If someone adds genuine value to your life and you have a mutual relationship with them with care, trust, respect etc., learn how to deal with conflict and criticism with them.
Don’t judge or cut them off. C-situations are ways to work through issues and be honest with one another. Recognise that they may have their own issues and try not to put your ego in the centre of it because you will lose sight of the real issues. Remember though that just because they give you feedback, doesn’t mean you have to agree with it or change.

15. If there is some truth to a criticism, listen to it.
Not all aspects of it may be on point, but the likelihood if you’re taking umbrage at it, is that there is something in it that ‘speaks’ to you. You may already be insecure or even judging you for the same thing.

16. But if it’s bullshit, know when to limit your listening frequency.
I find that genuine criticism doesn’t have someone’s personal agenda in it. Honest criticism does come from someone who has your best interests at heart and wants to see you succeed. If by agreeing with their criticism, it puts you in a position of them feathering their own agenda, it’s jog on time. It’s like when someone who is mistreating you calls you “oversensitive” or “needy” as if to suggest that you have issues that are impacting their behaviour. Actually, calling you these is to silence you and manage down your expectations. FLUSH!

17. Never take advice from someone who has abused you. Nuff said.

18. C-Situations do not mean that you are not liked or loved. They are also not rejection.
As someone who has been extremely sensitive to criticism in the past, it is a revelation that I can now receive criticism without exploding or running off. Yes, sometimes my husband expresses criticism. I know that he loves and cares about me and actually, he’s not disrespectful with it. I also know that I’m not under any obligation to have to ‘do’ anything – it’s just his opinion. The truth is, when I’ve reined my ego in, there is more often than not, some truth to what he’s saying (just like there is when I say something to him) but I would never discover this if I took anything that I perceived as being remotely negative as ‘rejection’.

Some people don’t handle C-Situations very well. They want to help you, but it comes out the wrong way, and there can appear to be some sort of disappointment behind it. Like with our parents. I’ve found that around friends, family, partner etc., that it’s not about disappointment or feeling like you have to meet their expectations.

Some people don’t know how to discuss and argue well, and this can be scary for people like us who don’t do conflict and criticism very well. Don’t treat these situations like the death knell for your relationships, romantic and otherwise. Don’t be afraid to say “Let’s come back to this when you’re calmer” or “I’m not going to continue this discussion if you’re going to do __________ or say things like ______________” One word: boundaries.

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