Managing Criticism Effectively

How do we effectively manage criticism?

Someone may not like our cooking, the way we dress, the article we wrote, or the way we performed on the job.

What is our typical response or reaction?

  • Accept what they say and then up our game? 
  • Become defensive and take it personally?
  • Reject the criticism based on objective criteria?
  • Eat a gallon of ice cream?

Here are some ways to build on what critics tell us.

Be a Duck not a Sponge

Considering the source of criticism is a key to managing it well. There are four types of people who evaluate us. These include

1.  The truly wise people and subject matter experts. These we respect and do well to heed their input (Accept their input and return to them often)

2.  Those who have our best interests at heart who may say “This is a good start but you are much better than this or you have lot more research to do on this subject”(Accept the input)

3.  The armchair critics who do not give much thought to what they are criticizing. They are therefore unqualified to judge our work because they don’t really know our work or us (Reject the criticism)

4.  Those with a track record of negativity. We avoid such naysayers. Unfortunately, more often than not, these harsh critics reside in our head. I love how writer Natalie Goldberg describes the voice of this inner critic as the “jabbering of an old drunk fool.” (Don’t listen to these empty words)

Consideringthe source of the criticism helps us decide whether to be a sponge or a duck in relationship to water, i.e. take it in or let it run off our backs.

Look for the Pony 

Viewing feedback as a gift ensures it’s best impact and keeps our emotions in check. It is much like the response of pessimists and optimists to a pile of manure. The former reflects on the foul sight and smell of the manure. The latter enthusiastically says, “Where’s the pony?” and begins to dig for it.

Pony seekers’ would typically respond to any valid form of feedback by saying,  “This is a work in progress and I’m on a learning curve.”

Sharpen the Pencil

Because of the critic’s evaluation we can choose to work on being better rather than become bitter. Wisdom would typically respond to valid criticism by saying,

“How can I incorporate these observations into my work?” 

“I will discipline myself to work on this project every day.”

The reality is that all great work has false starts and imperfect beginnings. All good writers have, in the words of author Anne Lamott, “shitty first drafts”.

Self-criticism and receiving criticism is par for the course whenever we put ourselves and our efforts up for public scrutiny. We have to learn that transcending criticism and making it work for us is much like a martial arts strategy. When someone lunges at us, we use their momentum and force to destabilize and throw them. It is therefore possible to make criticism work for us by either accepting it in one form or another or rejecting it in part or outright.

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Conversation Matters

In a day of political posturing and a blitz of media “chatter” what does it mean to have a great conversation?

It all depends of course on one’s definition of conversation. Here the acid test is that

no matter the topic, one experiences an intellectually stimulating and emotionally satisfying dialog in the context of mutual trust and respect. 

Let’s look at the contrast between the worst and the best in conversation styles.

The Substitutes

Many people mistake the sheer volume of talk with conversation. However the fool’s gold of conversation is seen in

  1. People who just want you for an audience. They talk “at” you. The rule, “listen to me but I’m not really interested in you” is not a conversation. It is a monologue by a narcissist or political demagogue. Worse still, there can be a basic disdain for others or a driving need to be superior.
  2. Those who have mastered the art of superficial interaction which some mistake for genuine connection. Scratch below the surface of the “small talk” and get behind the façade of “friendliness” and you will find little substance to the person or conversation
  3. Clever repartee where the parties compete to be “the smartest kid on the block”.This zero sum game results in winners and losers and, in the end, there is no real connection with others.

Now contrast the above with

The Real Thing

Genuine conversation is characterized by

  1. A dialogue where both parties contribute equally and listen intently. No one person dominates the conversation. He/she patiently listens to the other without interrupting or restlessly wanting to inject their point of view.
  2. A person characterized by a generous spirit, open mind, and loving heart. These people are continually searching for the good in others and ways to validate the other person’s point of view.
  3. A flow of dialogue that includes both point and counterpoint. A good conversationalist is not just a “yes” person but can freely offer contrary opinions without retreating into hostility or hardened personal or political opinions. At the core they have a teachable spirit and are willing to change their point of view as new facts emerge in the conversation.
  4.  People who have widely embraced different cultures where they see themselves as perpetual students and can celebrate differences and recognize similarities.
  5. A climate of safety and mutual respect and acceptance. Trust is not something that one requests but earns with the expression of the content of one’s good character. 

Don’t you get the sense that conversation is becoming a lost art in the public forum?

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A Letter From Your Ego

Imagine your ego wrote you the following letter.

Dear (Insert your name)

I want you to know that I am still very present and powerful in your life. Remember that with me “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated!” How do I know? Well when you read this you will recognize me in all my many forms.

Let me tell you I will resist you with all my power and ingenuity when you,

  1. Imply that I am merely a story or illusion of the mind. Not so, since I am part of the very fabric of your being. I am you and there is no other option for your life other than to live by my agenda.
  2. Try to tell yourself that busyness is not good. I’m telling you if you rest you rust. Being does not precede doing. It is the other way around.
  3. Indicate that I am the troublemaker responsible for your suffering. Your suffering comes from not meeting my needs. I need to look good, stand out, and be better than others. When you don’t strive for the latter it causes you no end of pain. So get over your renunciation kick and enjoy living with me at the front and center of your life.
  4. Attempt to deconstruct me with bogus philosophies that lead you into the mystery of your being. I have everything figured out. I can define exactly who and what you are.
  5. Stop trying to improve me. I am all about self-help and improvement. I have a seminar and program for everything.
  6. Challenge my dualistic view of life. There is a them/us distinction. Don’t try to tell me that I am connected to all other humans. Don’t you know how special I am? I stand out from the crowd.
  7. Imply that materialism (greed is good),  competition (smarter is what I am),  pride (i’m at the top of the pecking order), and self-assertion (notice me above all others) are paths to be managed rather than embraced with gusto. You amount to nothing if you don’t follow me.
  8. Pursue practices like mindfulness, meditation, and prayer that take you away from a future or past focus. Or worse still. You will try to live in the present. That’s just a joke!

Finally, stop trying to ignore or eradicate me. Buddah fought Mara. Jesus fought the devil in the wilderness. Look where that got them, poverty and worse, crucifixion.

Your Response

What would you write to your ego in response?

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New Boss, New Opportunity

When a new boss comes on board you need to get with his/her vision as soon as possible. The birth of a new way of doing things often produces upheaval in our world.

  • Current initiatives driven by you and your team may suddenly become a low priority for this new leader.
  • Senior leaders who know your work and had your back may be displaced and reassigned.
  • You may report to a series of new bosses until things settle down.
  • Rumors of a major reorganization leave everyone jittery and feeling that there is a target on their back.
  • What are your options for continued usefulness in this new world?

Before you scamper to find the headhunter’s contact information here are some positive actions you can take.

Learn the leader’s vision for the organization

Each new leader brings to the table some new vision for the organization. It behooves you to get to know his/her strategic road-map as quickly as possible. New leaders show their hand in this regard in different ways. Some hold back until they get to know the new system. Others have an immediate mandate from the Board to implement change initiatives. It would also be helpful to find out why this leader was hired.

Align your skills and passions with that vision

Try and schedule a 1:1 meeting with the new boss and ask directly “What is your vision for our organization?” Remember this is an information-gathering meeting. You are sowing seeds not reaping a crop. During the same meeting, build on what he/she tells you by validating his/her ideas and expressing your own opinion about ways you can help his/her plan succeed.

Ask other senior leaders to lobby for you to be a significant part of the new strategy development

Having advocates cheerlead for you goes a long way towards getting on the new leader’s radar. Expand your network with these leaders and let them know what you are willing to do for them in return. Part of that lobbying effort may be to get you a seat at the table where pending changes are discussed and planned.

A leadership change at the top is no time to sit back passively and let the chips fall where they may. Nor should you just hope that your work speak for itself. You may well get lost in the shuffle. Nor is it time just for you to advance your own interests. Wherever possible, advocate for the value that your team will add.

Finally, speaking from my consulting experience, I have seen these three influencing principles work over and over again.


What are some of your best practices for maximizing your career when there has been a leadership change at the top?

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When Heroes Fall

Hardly a day goes by without us hearing of some hero that crashed and burned. An article in today’s NY Times covers all recent Olympic champions who were stripped of their medals due to doping.

We all fall in some way or another. What then?

Instead of descending into disillusionment and becoming cynical about people (or ourselves) how can we learn from such painful experiences?

One big lesson I have learned is to beware of idealizing others. Nobody can sustain perpetual success. Take any Linkedin bio and try and imagine these stellar people without failure. Such reality testing keeps us from myth making.

Why is it so important to recognize that even the greatest amongst us have warts? Maybe it is because

  1. We unconsciously refuse to see such people for what they really are. 
  2. In a very flawed world we want to escape into the world of superhero saviors? 
  3. We fuel the myth about our heroes because we avoid looking at their and our  feet of clay.

 And what are we to do with our own lapses in good judgment?

We can start by

  • Embracing the ever-present shadow self

The ego will always rear its ugly head as it seeks self-centered gratification. However, instead of descending into despair when we act on the prompting of our shadow, we need to learn to respond with self-deprecating humor, mercy, and forgiveness.

  • Refusing to get into “bad mind” thinking

Whenever we stumble and fall in our relationships and career we can listen to the bad mind that tells us that we “don’t have what it takes”. I remember a neighbor telling me two decades ago after my painful divorce that maybe I was not the “marrying type.“ If I had accepted that “truth” about myself I would have fallen into a mental trap that would have excluded me from the happiest years of my life.

  • Learning to tap into our own inner wisdom 

We all have a wise inner self that is not always audible during tough times. What I have learned is that this inner wisdom speaks in a very soft and sometimes inaudible voice. Finding silent places in our selves, nature, and solitude helps us access this voice that whispers life-affirming truths to us. It is also the most powerful antidote to all the naysayers and doomsday-thinkers that repeat the word “impossible”  to us.

  • Finding a balance between trusting others and expecting them to be human

The quest for balance involves that we take our heroes and ourselves with a “pinch of salt”. We recognize that no one leader or group has all of the answers we need all the time. Everyone crashes and burns and has feet of clay. However, that reality should not make us abandon our ideals that spur us towards our continued pursuit of excellence.

Heroes fall for many reasons. At times it of their own doing (doping). Other times it is the result of an unfortunate accident. But, in the end, it is how they make their comeback that counts.

At the Olympics in the men’s 10,000 meter race, Great Britain’s Farah Mo tripped and fell near the middle of the race. He got up, shook off the accident, and with the encouragement of his friend went on to a stunning victory.


What helped you overcome adversity?

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Always a Bridesmaid but Never a Bride – Uncovering Unconscious Assumptions

We have all heard that woeful refrain in one form or another. It could well be “groomsman not the groom” or “manager but never an executive”. I have heard this story again and again from athletes, academics, actors, and account executives that “choked” in their career or relationships at some point. They

Interviewed for a high profile opportunity that did not pan out

Vowed to lose weight but still ate all the wrong things

Wanted to reinvent life but never got out of the old patterns

Kissed a lot of princes that turned into frogs

What keeps people from getting what they want? Why do they procrastinate on doing what they know is good for them? And why do they have so many lost opportunities?

These major stumbles cannot be blamed on a lack of talent or bad luck or fate, so what’s going on?

Well the answer is not flagellate oneself with negative labels (procrastinator or worse still, loser). Nor is it to redouble our efforts. The key is to ferret out the core beliefs that sabotage our behavior. More often than not,

 Such assumptions are deeply embedded in our unconscious minds.

Have you ever tried to swim when there is a strong current? You exert a lot of effort but you go nowhere.

The unconscious mind operates in a similar fashion. It undermines our best efforts to achieve an important goal.

Deep in the recesses of our mind we carry an underlying story about ourselves that often was born in painful childhood experiences.

These stories and accompanying feelings are the core of our mental and emotional operating system. They inform everything from our intimate relationships to our work experiences. And they drive us unwittingly to self-sabotage in directions we would not choose with our conscious selves.

Case Study

She was one of the most talented junior executives I’ve ever met. She had rocketed to  the top of the marketing division of her organization. Everyone predicted she would lead the group in the near future. In fact, her boss tapped her to be his successor. After his retirement she interviewed for his job.

She bombed in the interview and she was devastated.

Aware that somehow she had sabotaged herself she began coaching. She wanted to find out why and how she could have a better outcome in the future. I soon realized that she did not need to be coached on interview strategies. She had been through many such interviews in the past and been very successful.

What was going on?

After some preliminary questions about her childhood experiences I became aware that there was an unconscious belief system that had shaped her poor interview. I asked her,

“If you had been successful in the interview and been promoted to lead the marketing department, what fears would you have to manage?”

 After a few more probing questions the answer she gave was,

“If I had that executive position, maybe some issues would come up that I would not be able to handle and then folks would know that I am really not up to the job!”

 We still had not excavated deep enough into her psyche to get to the real reason for her sabotaging her interview. But the pivotal phrase was “not up to the job”

Her narcissistic and highly competitive father could not handle her competence as a child and young adult. He continually dismissed her achievements and put her down in cruel and hurtful ways. As a result she muted her talents and did everything she could not to let him feel that she could eclipse him. Here was the underlying message,

“If I succeed at anything significant (like the head of marketing) I will be treading on land mines and ultimately be discredited (first by my father and then by others in leadership positions) I dare not compete with my father”.

That eureka moment brought up a lot of deep sadness but it was the turning point in her coaching. The big assumption that a significant achievement would be a prelude to a failure (the voice of her father in her unconscious) now became part of her conscious mind..

Slowly she was able to review other significant career and personal achievements that had not turned out to be a disaster. She saw clearly that her unconscious perception had shaped her reality. As a result she was able to perform in future interviews without the riptide belief “I will prove that I am not competent” causing her to self-destruct.


What unconscious beliefs shape your assumptions (What you believe will happen if you get what you desire)?

What hurtful event/person in your past contributed to this belief?

How can you build a case for yourself with a new line of evidence?



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Stop Trying to Read my Mind

I’ve been in the field of psychology for nearly three decades but still cannot get a fully accurate reading of a person’s mind. Folks sometimes say to me on discovering that I’m a psychologist “I need to be careful around you because you will know what going on inside my head!”

Not so.

There are all sorts of amateur psychologists that mistakenly believe that they can understand our motives and actions using everything from some psychological theory to their intuition, .

However, they all fall into the trap of observer bias.

In fact, every time we tell a story it changes in big and small ways as it passes through our own inner lens. That happens with everything from auto-biographies to eye witness accounts in court. The line between “fact” and opinion becomes very blurred.

What really bugs me is when people and institutions claim to know what is best for me. They then often follow this “knowing” by trying to tell me what to do.

The other day I parked my car in the shade of a tree next to a trash bin at the back of a supermarket. I chose that spot because it was a very hot day and I had two dogs in the car that really needed the shade. Next thing a total stranger was honking her car horn at me,  wagging her finger, and yelling that I should not deposit my trash in a private bin. This self-appointed trash cop made an assumption about my behavior and was dead wrong.

Consider the following scenarios where the wrong assumption could be made about the person’s behavior.

The boss sees you writing a personal email during work hours and assumes that you are neglecting a major deadline.

You see your child hanging out with a heavily tattooed friend and you assume that she is up to some mischief.

A women is friendly to a male colleague and he interprets that as sexual interest.

A psychologist I knew would offer interpretations of perceived inner states to relative strangers. (Incidentally this was highly offensive and unethical)

Journalists commenting on the life of a criminal come up with all sorts of motives for the crime without really knowing the perpetrator. (Who cares what neighbors thought about the person?)

Here are some facts about mind reading.It is really very difficult, if not impossible, to pull off without an extensive knowledge of the person/situation.

It is a “hit or miss” behavior on our part and at most we can come up with a hypothesis that is barely a plausible explanation.

More often than not it leads us far astray from the essence of the person we are observing.

We really need to allow the other person to teach us, to the best of his/her ability, what is going on in their inner world.

 Your Response

 How has it been for you when others have tried to read your mind?

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A Letter to my Younger Self

(If this blog speaks to you please share it on Twitter and Facebook)

My dear younger Cedric,

You are at the beginning of your career and first marriage and life is brimming with hope. You are deeply optimistic and have great plans for yourself and your new family. You believe that you made a career decision based on an inner calling and then set the course of your life based on this compass direction. The result is certain: things will turn out the way you planned. The universe presented you with an opportunity and together you are going to make it happen.

Now listen up. Things are going to change.

In mid-life your whole universe will collapse. Every dream you ever had will crumble. Your family will not turn out the way you planned. Your career will be in in tatters. Death, divorce, and disease will stare you in the face. And the deep-seated faith in the universe that you had (It calls, you answer, and it happens) will be up for grabs. With your sense of despair at an all time low, you will sit there asking “What now?”

Here are some pointers that you will probably not believe and may completely disregard.

However, before you reject these views out-of-hand, consider this.

Right now in later life things have never been better. I am living in the most exciting and fulfilling period of my life.  I have a deeply gratifying career that is 180 degrees from where you are. I live in the “land of enchantment” New Mexico filled with magic, adventure, and new friendships, a universe away from your life in Africa.

But for what’s its worth, here is my spin on a wisdom that I have discovered through my life’s teachers of momentous loss, grievous disappointment, and complete unpredictability. This concrete advice I offer to the younger me.

  1. Life is messy. It never turns out the way you planned. In the end it is better to be a realist and not a dreamy idealist. Naïve idealism can keep you disappointed, depressed, and disillusioned. It can also keep you trying to control the uncontrollable, depend on people (as well as yourself) behaving in rational and adult ways, and create fantasies of how you want things to turn out. In a strange way, this realization of the messiness of life normalizes things when you go through hurtful relationships, jobs that are disappointing, and unrealizable dreams. It also helps us let go of the illusion that we are in control in life.
  1. Success, as the world defines it is not everything that it is cracked up to be (e.g. getting to the top, receiving recognition, being financially secure, and having the model marriage and family). There are two reasons. First, life does not work that way. And second, the success of being is more important than the success of doingFurthermore, the fact that there have been failures does not make you a failure.
  1. Look for the many faces of grace that appear out of the blue in the hard timesThis is the one constant in the face of an ever changing universe.  Grace is also bundled into the universe despite heartbreaking and confusing losses. By the gift of grace we find those painful experiences to be our most transforming moments. As the writer Adyashanti writes of his difficult times,

“The immensity of unconditional love was just washing over me in waves”

What then is that grace?

In my experience it is the realization that I am loved without conditions and accepted by something bigger than myself. Grace is also a part of my oneness with all. This most important part of life opens the door of my heart to another way of living. The result is gratitude and a capacity to see the beauty inherent in everything. Who would have known that life could have brought you to such a place?

  1. Stay in the moment. Paying attention to this and getting out of your head or derailed by your emotions (I can control everything, understand everything, and predict my future accurately) is the path to discovering the magic of living. Just think of the wonderful moments you miss when you are living solely in terms of the future you plan or the past that you regret?

To my middle aged self I leave you with the words of Adyashanti,

“In those moments when we know that we don’t know, when we take the backward step, heart wide open, we fall into grace.”

So my dear younger Cedric, brimful of dreams and plans, I trust that you will learn these lessons sooner than later. They will not prevent the tragedies and disappointments of life from occurring. Your middle age will still be a time when the “stuff hits the fan”. However, these four beliefs will empower you to see other paradigms of living. The bitter pill life will ask you to swallow will not be as bitter.

Above all,  remember that it may seem that your ship is sinking but in reality it is only changing course. So you don’t have to descend into despair and hopelessness. You can then grab the opportunity to live  more fully before you die.

Best wishes

The older man you never dreamed you would become.

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Managing High Maintenance People

How are High Maintenance People (HMP’s) best managed?

The acronym CEO is a way to describe their behavior. It denotes

C= Controlling

E= Entitled

O= Ownership


HMP’s like to be in charge of their world (and ours). Their response comes from a deep sense of insecurity and a fragile self-esteem. It often translates into bullying/controlling behavior. Just try to push back, express your own opinion, or have your own voice with a HMP and you meet with instant hostility or judgment. Standing up to them is not a very pretty scene. You may even get a nasty tweet from them.


Think of the times you encountered road rage. You may have been traveling too slowly for the HMP and he (usually a male) drove close to the rear of you car, flashed his lights and honked his horn. It was his way of saying “The road belongs to me, get out of the way!” Often such entitlement comes with rank, wealth, gender, and class. These individuals believe they always deserve the best and in so doing demand it no matter the cost to others. I’ve seen these entitled types push their way to the front of a line and demand immediate service.


“What did his last slave die of” was the frustrated response of an employee to me about her HMP boss. He would make unrealistic demands on her time without respect for her other important projects. Being viewed as someone else’s property is at the heart of sexism, racism, and generally found in a possessive person.

Get the picture of the HMP? Not a pretty scene.

What are the best strategies for managing such people?

Run or fade away

There comes a time when we say to ourselves about HMP’s “life is too short for this crap. I’m out of here.” But this is sometimes easier said than done especially if you have a lot of time invested in that person on your job or in your personal relationship. Remember that playing the martyr is the heart of codependence. You will never change their behavior. But you can change yours.

Get off my back 

Such a frontal approach works better with some HMP’s than others. This is especially true in confronting people who use the direct approach themselves. Interventions, as used in confronting those who are causing misery through the abuse of substances, are at times effective especially if the HMP stands to lose a lot. However, choose this tactic carefully by deciding what battles you actually want to fight and what consequences you want to enforce.

Pause between stimulus and your response

Not jumping into the swamp with the alligators is a prudent tactic. How often have we told ourselves “I wish I had counted to five before I responded (or not responded) to the HMP”? A way to do this is to try and find something right about what they are saying like “This is a very urgent matter for you. What project do you want me to put on the back burner while I take care of this matter? The latter can often diffuse a volatile situation. 

Transform the suffering into compassion

This is a very mature and evolved response. The ancient Tibetan Buddhism practice of tonglen trains us to transform the suffering that comes from living with HMP’s into compassion using one’s breath. As one breathes in slowly one allows oneself to experience the full force of the pain of being controlled and owned by an entitled individual. You accept it as is, without judgment. In breathing out one expresses the wish that HMP’s will be released from their burden and experience freedom and joy. This exercise is best done in private for your benefit to recalibrate your emotions.

HMP’s are found in every sector of life. Learning to manage them effectively helps us keep our sanity and not reinforce their bullying behavior.

What did you do with your HMP?

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“I’d Come Back as a Woman”

The other day someone asked a friend of mine a thought-provoking question; “If there were such a thing as reincarnation, would you come back as a woman or a man?”

 His answer surprised me, “A woman”

 Wait a minute,” I replied half-joking, “You mean that you would give up your societal advantage in being a white male?

 Here was his explanation

“Do you know how emotionally lonely it is to be a male at times?

Males are not generally socialized to make deep emotional connections. When I am in a group of men, all they seem to talk about is facts whether they be from sports, politics, or their professional world. They also like to tell stories that preclude one from any real conversation. Now while facts have a legitimate place in our lives, I far prefer being in the company of women who generally come from the heart rather than just the head.”

 I was quick to tell my friend that I have also known and gravitate towards males who are adept at making these emotional connections.

At this stage of life, like my friend,  I long more for sincere heart connections, reflectiveness about life, and personal authenticity. To me, this is the success factor for true conversation and connection. It is also the antidote to one feeling alone in life.

 In your opinion, what is the path to a satisfying emotional connection?


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