By Dr. Marta Adelsman
Life Coach in Communication and Consciousness
(February 27, 2019)
For years I had accused my husband, Steve, of criticizing me. Because I had come to expect it, I approached conversations already defensive. Then I learned how I didn’t have to let it land and trigger my defensive response.
I have used these 3 steps to deflect criticism:
- Recognize when your defenses rise. Most of us have clues, like a tightened gut, a tense jaw, or a faster heartbeat. You may notice a buzz of emotional energy within you that signals anger and resistance.
- Once you recognize it, remind yourself you don’t have to take in the criticism. Know you can deflect it, and it would most likely serve your relationship to do so.
- Deflect the person’s comment, turning it around so the other person sees himself rather than looking at you critically.
Here’s an example:
“You should back the car into the garage instead of pulling in front first.”
Response possibility #1: Why do you have to tell me how to pull into the garage? I’ve been doing it for years, and it’s been fine! Your way of doing things isn’t always better, you know!”
Response possibility #2: I think I heard a criticism in what you just said. Was it your intention to criticize me?
Response possibility #3: “I understand that’s how you see it. Thanks for your opinion.”
Response possibility #4: Tell me more. I’m willing to change if I think your way works better for me.
The first response is argumentative. It draws out defensiveness in the other person, and can easily escalate into a full-blown conflict.
The second response alerts the other person to how he came across to you and encourages him to examine his motives behind the comment. My communication mentor, Dr. Carol McCall, calls this ‘checking it out.’ Checking it out buys you time so you can diffuse your own defensive response, which can escalate the conflict.
The third and fourth responses clearly establish your boundary. You communicate your competence to make a choice about how you park the car.
However you choose to deflect the criticism, responses 2, 3, and 4 probably constitute a new habit, so it may feel weird at first. Through practice, you gain skill and, in the process, you keep your power.