My husband told me the other day that I was very argumentative with certain friends. Naturally, I wanted to argue with him that I wasn’t.
He wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings, upset me, or negatively criticize me. He pointed out that being argumentative isn’t necessary, nor does it reflect on me positively. He intended to give me helpful feedback.
We were on our evening walk at the time, and as you can imagine, the conversation ended at that point.
I was mad at him as I felt he was wrong. He couldn’t (or wouldn’t) give me examples when I pressed for them.
As the uncomfortable silence continued, I realized I was being argumentative, exactly as he pointed out.
It’s been a couple of days, we’ve resumed talking to each other, LOL, and I’ve had a chance to think about what Warren had to say.
Whether he was right or not is irrelevant. He was trying to give me feedback that would help me, and I am the one who needs to be able to receive it.
I am not alone when it comes to receiving criticism. In theory, we all receive negative feedback well. Until something we disagree with is pointed out.
If someone told you that you were always late to meetings and you didn’t think you were, how would you react? Or that you never proofread your emails before you sent them out? Or you are a constant interrupter?
Those don’t feel like helpful feedback. They feel like criticism.
Until we do these three things:
- Change your definition of criticism. You say you can take feedback, but you perceive criticism differently, making you feel at fault. Interchange the word criticism (which we react negatively to) to feedback.
Warren wasn’t criticizing me for being argumentative. He was giving me feedback.
By changing the simple definition of criticism, I am in a better frame of mind to receive the feedback. By perceiving his comment as helpful feedback, I can see the suggestion of “Stop doing that” instead of “You’re the problem.”
- Look at all feedback as positive. Reframe the comments as support.
“Those who venture to criticize us perform a remarkable act of friendship, for to undertake to wound or offend a man for his own good is to have a healthy love for him.”
– Michel de Montaigne
Typically, this feedback stings because we are not aware of the issue. It may reveal a weakness or a blind spot. Instead of the sting of, “I didn’t know that” (which means, “I don’t agree with that. I’ve never noticed it before,” reframe it as, “Oh wow. I didn’t know that about myself. Thank you for letting me know.”
People will only give feedback if they care. If they didn’t care, they would let you continue to do whatever it is you do and let you fail.
Warren didn’t want me to compromise my friendships by my argumentative nature. He could see the friends I was arguing with didn’t like my style and could potentially hurt the friendship. He knew the friendship was more important to me than the issue I chose to argue about. While his comments felt hurtful, the intent was to support me.
- Do something about it. If I asked you if you accepted feedback well, you probably would say yes. If you said yes, then you have to do something about the feedback even if you disagree with it.
By reframing and looking at the feedback as supportive, you have to dig a little deeper into the comment. What was the intent? Are you going to change your behavior as a result of the feedback?
If the feedback was accurate, you have to be willing to make changes. If you don’t agree with the feedback, you have to be willing to look at your actions to ensure you don’t say or do what you disagree with.
I actually don’t think that I’m argumentative. I know that I love to debate and am a straightforward communicator. I can appreciate the feedback intended to point out that I shouldn’t always debate and be so direct. I don’t need to argue with Warren that the words he chose were inaccurate (you can see how I am charged with being argumentative here, right?).
I am willing to make changes, so I don’t appear argumentative. I am willing to bite my tongue, question the usefulness of certain comments, and listen more than I speak.
Criticism can be reframed to be helpful if I am willing to let it be helpful.
I am. Which makes this article an apology of sorts to Warren and the friends I argue with. Since it is not my intent to argue, I will take the criticism as feedback, recognize it was shared with love, and I will do something about it.