“How to Respond to Criticism” by Fred Kofman

verbal aikidoNow, I am not a particular fan of Linkedin. It seems like it’s always on the edge of virus-like behavior, and doing unwanted things. At one point I must have clicked the wrong key and it sent messages inviting everyone I knew and also that of my husband. I got so mad at them I quit and closed my accounts. However, because SAF has a group there full of interesting material for this blog, I decided to rejoin it.

I was surprised yesterday to find something timely and useful pop up from Linkedin. It could also be because the other groups I belong to are the National Council for Dialogue and Deliberation and the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, or perhaps a direct message from the Universe.

Of course, whether these two pieces are worth the loss of privacy is not exactly clear. I hope that you don’t need to be on Linked In to read these pieces.. they are by a fellow named Fred Kofman entitled “How to Respond to Criticism” parts 1 and 2. Here is the “linked in” link to part one..and below is an excerpt.

The only way to win a fight with a colleague is not to have it. Beating him will get you, at best, a defeated resentful opponent.

Here are four general strategies that reduce conflicts. They don’t guarantee you will avoid them, but minimize their probability.

Should they happen, they increase your odds of resolving them constructively. They create a positive predisposition towards collaborative relationships.

If you face an arrogant attack, they will help expose its irrationality, not only to you, but also to others who might frown upon your critic’s strong-arm tactics. If you face constructive criticism, they will help you and your critic turn the fight into a dance.

These strategies are not “nice” in the sense that they allow anybody to state whatever opinion they want. They are “clarifying” in the sense they eliminate the fog of war that prevents rational discussion. They are rules of engagement similar to the ones of the scientific method, which focus on reason and evidence. They take hostility out of the equation, allowing for a logical consideration of the different points of view.

* Speak with humility. Present your argument in safe language, as I described here. Own your opinions. Present them in first person as the conclusion of your reasoning process. This gives others the chance to present a different opinion without clashing with yours. For example, when you say, “In light of the evidence from the focus groups, I believe that the marketing campaign is ready to launch.” you make room for your counterpart to say, “I disagree. The focus groups may have liked the ads, but our retailers are not convinced.”

* Listen with respect. Pay attention to others’ arguments, as I described here, especially when you disagree with them. Reciprocity is the most powerful influence you can exert. If you genuinely try to understand their perspective, they are more likely to try to understand yours. For example, when you say, “It worries me that the retailers are not convinced, what do you suggest we do about it?” you neither discount his data nor yours. This allows both of you to examine all perspectives.

* Choose your battle. If the disagreement is a matter of personal preferences, there is no need to agree. It is futile to argue whether chocolate “tastes” better than strawberry. It may taste better to you, and it may taste worse to him. Unless a joint decision is necessary, it is best to agree to disagree. The desire to “be right” fuels fights that serve no practical purpose.

* Choose your battlefield. Culture can be defined as “the way we do things around here”. If you live in a culture where might makes right, your humility and respect will weaken you. Bullies will always win out in bully-land. Or at least until the group is eliminated by fitter competitors. Reason always beats force in the long term. If you don´t want to go the way of the dinosaurs, evolve to a more rational niche.

Here is a link to his second piece.

And we are pretty respectful here, generally, but once in a while some folks veer off track a bit..

R: “Do you think there is a place for dangerous language? I think the dangerous language comes across a lot stronger. It’s punchier and has a bigger impact. It’s like swearing, sometimes you want to have a bigger effect and therefore a swear word might be more appropriate.”

M: “When stakes are high, I find dangerous language dangerous. It comes, as you say, a lot stronger, like a punch with a big impact. I don´t know anybody who likes to get punched. If you want to hurt people, this is a great way to do it. If you want to collaborate with them, why would you want to intimidate them with swear words?”

R: “But sometimes (sometimes) it is perfectly normal to use more colorful language. Sometimes things ARE stupid, don’t you think?”

M: “No, I don´t think things ARE stupid. I think stupidity is in the eye of the (arrogant) beholder. I do believe that it is perfectly normal to use colorful language, and that is why it is perfectly normal for people to abuse each other, destroy relationships and waste energy in fruitless arguments. I also find it is perfectly normal for companies to collapse because arrogant bullies cannot work together.”

Here is a link to the author.

5 thoughts on ““How to Respond to Criticism” by Fred Kofman”

  1. From my perspective Sharon I do wish that more of the regular commenters on this blog would respond to the first question posed by the gatekeeper in your “Recommended Comment Considerations” posted on the right of the homepage prior to posting their opinions and information:

    When commenting, please consider the three doors that charitable speech must pass through. The gatekeeper at the door asks, “Is it true?”

    I have to say that many of the arguments, disagreement and debate on this blog can be traced back to the fact that people post information or opinions which are not true…and others feel a need (perhaps rightfully) to correct them.

  2. Do you mean that their opinions are not “true” or their facts are not “true”? Our discussions seem to me mostly about values given things which are not known, and can never be known

    “What is the best way to manage land, given the unknown future, in light of environmental, economic and social justice concerns?” Isn’t that really the question?

    I think that there’s a great deal of scientific research products out there but not sure that they are “true” in any philosophical sense.

    I’m up for picking a topic and attempting to elucidate “truth.”.”values” and “facts”..
    Perhaps one our much-discussed projects?

    Here’s another “q and a” from Kofman:

    R: “Sometimes there are poorly conceived ideas that don’t stand up to critical testing and they are, in fact, stupid ideas. Perhaps what you mean to say is that it is not socially expedient to blurt out that something is ‘stupid’?”

    M: “Thanks for checking. I mean to make a much stronger claim than social expediency. What you call ‘stupid’ or ‘poorly conceived’ fails to measure up to your personal standards. Humility, for me, is akin to the scientific spirit that tests propositions logically and empirically against universal standards before considering them properly or poorly conceived. I do believe that people can be wrong. In fact, there are hundreds of ways in which people fall into logical fallacies, and thousands of ways in which people make mistakes about their facts. That is why we need an objective method for rational discourse, because it gives us an objective way to test our propositions against reason and evidence.”

  3. Yes, much of the shouting and disagreements on this site are discussions of “values” wrapped by the writer in a disguise of “truth”. Such as one person who takes his extensive experience and knowledge of the Cascade areas and northern California, and extends this “truth” throughout the West…as gospel.
    That is a big part of the frustration monitoring these discussions.

    It seems there are a few regulars who attempt to overwhelm us with their schooling or experience or breath of publication. Which is foolish and of no value when we are largely exchanging views of value issues rather than hard facts.

    Personally I know enough to get myself in trouble, over my head in the science of silviculture or fire ecology. So I rarely make hard, firm statements of “fact” and try to deal with my personal opinions (values?) and life experiences in forest management, water quality, or wildlife.
    Have learned a lot from many of you regulars, but am disappointed on the seeming lack of acceptance of “other values” by a few of us. Guess this just reflects the scope and depth of differences in our fractured society. As so evident these very days in the gun control dilemma.
    Basically too much talk and heat, and not enough real listening to the other side.

  4. People naturally try to use facts to support their opinions. If there is no “truth,” maybe we should change the test “Is it true?” to “Is the evidence supporting the argument more compelling than the evidence not supporting the argument?”

  5. Well, Tree, that is a good thing to keep in mind. And one problem is that the “evidence producing industry” is not equally accessible to all people.

    For example, many of us would simply like to get an estimate of number of acres treated by the Forest Service annually, where and how.

    Others of us are signing on to a letter to make sure that FIA (which also collects information) is funded.

    Now this isn’t random, because users of FIA are better at bringing pressure to bear than potential users of the People’s Database,.. but I think you see my point.


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