There are split-second moments in everyone’s life that reveals the inner workings of a person. A micro gesture of an upward turned part of the mouth in combination with a slightly closed eye might signal contempt for another person. However, this quick moment is easily missed by an untrained eye. But you don’t have to be that in-tuned to another person’s body language in order to figure them out.
Instead, their response to criticism is highly unveiling. Think of it as a glance into the inner workings of how the other person thinks, feels, and reacts. Their attitude towards being confronted is usually instinctual especially when the comments are unexpected with the first words out of their mouth being particularly exposing.
While this might sound like an easy way to test someone, it actually is very difficult. Proper delivery of criticism ensures the more instinctual response whereas poorly executed critiques give the other person too much time to consider their reaction. Even a ten-second delay is too much. And if the person asks a question in response to the comment, they have given themselves even more time.
So how do you generate a more pure response? Observe something currently happening in the environment and make a statement of critique, not a question. A question is more inviting, whereas a statement is more condemning. For instance, if you walk into a room where they are watching TV interrupt abruptly by saying, “You are watching a lot of TV lately, there is work you should be doing instead.” The initial reaction to this statement can reveal their inner workings.
- “That didn’t happen.” – Denier – David denied the event as soon as he was confronted by his spouse. By saying something didn’t happen, David manipulated his spouse into thinking that she was at fault.
- “Yes, but…” – Passive-aggressive – Pam was willing to accept responsibility upfront just to get her husband to stop talking even though she had no intention of changing any behavior.
- “It’s (insert person’s name) fault.” – Blamer – Bob immediately blamed another co-worker when confronted about a missed deadline. He did this to escape any responsibility.
- “You are crazy.” – Aggressive attackers – Angie snapped back at a friend’s criticism with an immediate personal attack. She knew this would hurt especially after her friends’ recent diagnosis with depression.
- “What! Why do you hate me?” – Emotional/borderline – Instead of listening to the criticism, Emily got emotional and defensive in her response.
- “If you said it differently, I might have listened.” – Nic-pickers – Detailed oriented people like Nick often use this line to avoid addressing the criticism.
- “Everyone is out to get me, including you.” – Paranoid – Pete’s fear of being harmed by others prevents him from hearing the criticism for what it is.
- “You would be like this too if…” – Victim mentality – Victoria often uses her traumatic childhood experiences as justification for her poor current behavior.
- “You think I’m that way, well you are 10 times worse.” – Narcissistic – Nathan’s ego cannot handle being criticized especially in public, so he fights back by accusing the other person of even worse behavior.
- “I’m going to kill you.” – Sociopathic – Steven stares into the eyes of the other person as he delivers this line allowing the awkward silence to speak for itself.
- “You’re not being realistic.” – Instigators/jabbers – Irene fires back with a statement that incites the other person into a defensive position to avoid addressing the issue.
- “You’re just saying that because you’re upset.” – Avoiders – By using this line, Ann successfully avoids having a real conversation about the issue at hand and instead redirects it to another topic.
- “What am I suppose to do? Why are doing this? How come no one has said this before?” – Obsessive – Olivia only says about half of the questions that obsessively fill her brain the instant a critique is offered.
- “That’s just another reason why life is terrible.” – Depressed – Rather than address the issue, Darlene makes a grandiose statement and jumps to the worst possible conclusion which fuels her depression.
- “I’ll think about that.” – Cautious – Charlie cautiously takes the criticism in but refuses to address it in the moment.
- “Tell me more.” – Concerned – Clara hears the criticism and openly invites more feedback so there can be more clarity on the issue.
- “Thank you for sharing. Please help me with this.” – Confident – Carmen receives the critique with grace and asks for assistance in preventing it in the future.
The last three ways of handling criticism are all appropriate given different personality styles. Instead of reacting negatively to a critique, try incorporating one of the alternatives. This can positively impact your relationships going forward.