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Category Archives: Relationships

Diffusing Criticism

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Why do you approach criticism the same way you approach an unguarded railroad crossing?

I recently spoke about diffusing criticism and opened by asking that question. At an unguarded railroad crossing your life is at stake. When you receive harsh criticism, your self-image and reputation can be at stake if you act wrongly.

How is criticism received in your brain?

We have a composite brain broadly described by Bert Decker to consist of the First Brain, the seat of our emotions, and the New Brain, the seat of our reasoning. When the First Brain and the New Brain conflict, we do stupid things. Have you read about a motorist that tried to beat a fast train to a railroad crossing and died as a result of his stupid behavior? The primitive running down a gazelle on the savannah takes control over the reasoning motorist.

In the same way, our First Brain urges us to take stupid actions to criticism. We may withdraw to stop communicating. We may counterattack, thinking we’ve been attacked. Or, we may rationalize away the criticism, missing an opportunity to grow and learn.

How will you handle criticism when your are at that potentially dangerous crossing?

First Brain Engagement

Criticism raises your pulse, races your mind, and can make you a deer in the headlights. That’s your First Brain taking charge of the situation. Although the First Brain is deaf, dumb, and blind, it demands you recognize and work with it. We speak to it through our behaviors. Do what you’d do at an unguarded railroad crossing: Stop, Look, and Listen.

  • Stop – Get off your cellphone, look away from your computer, put away distractions to signal your First Brain to pay attention. The First Brain reacts to criticism by increasing and decreasing respiration as it prepares you to run or to hide. Take control of your breath and count your breaths to convince the First Brain its plan to run or hide is unnecessary. Focus your attention on being present.
  • Look – Give the person your full attention as you focus on eyes, body language, and speech. You can tell a lot from eye contact and body language, such as “Is this person being honest with me?” “Is the tone of voice consistent with what’s said?”
  • Listen – Tell yourself it’s okay to listen. Criticism can only hurt you by the way you react. Engage your First Brain and New Brain. “Is the eye contract and body language consistent with what’s being said?” “What are the key points that you hear?”

New Brain Engagement

People criticize to motivate change or to punish. Punishment is not a healthy dialogue intended to improve your performance. Disengage from punishing criticism, just as you would avoid a dangerous railroad crossing. If the person intends to help you improve your performance, you’ve got to engage your New Brain to understand what’s said and how you can benefit by it.

  • Repeat and paraphrase – Are you sure you heard or understood what’s said? Repeat or paraphrase what you’ve heard to confirm what’s been said. If done with sincerity and a proper tone of voice, the other person will appreciate that you are listening and thinking about what’s said. Pilots repeat to ground control what they hear. If you were approaching a railroad crossing, and your passenger mumbled, “I think a train is approaching,” you would immediately repeat, “Did you say that a train is approaching?” What works in the air and on the ground, works when you receive criticism.
  • Ask questions –  You learned in school that asking questions reinforces your understanding of the materials. Asking questions also coordinates your New Brain and First Brain, as you signal that it’s okay to go into unfamiliar feelings and understandings.

Deal with Feelings First

You’ll notice that your first reaction to criticism is to engage the First Brain. That’s counter to what we’re taught in school and often at home – think and analyze first, sympathize last. If you want to learn from sincere criticism, you’ve got to be present, and to be present you’ve got to be emotionally present.

The heart has its reason which reason knows not of. ~ Blaise Pascal

As you coordinate your feelings and thinking, you are prepared to empathize with the feelings of the other person. Perhaps the reason for the criticism is a perceived hurt or slight that can’t be expressed in words. If you refrain from judgment and know the other person’s point of view, you can distinguish the valid emotions from the reasoned criticism you received. A simple apology – not a denial – is the answer when the person feels you caused a hurt.

Behavior Tips

Your behaviors telegraphs your state of mind. A few simple ones can be a life-saver when you are unsure of the purpose of the criticism.

  • Remain calm
  • Show respect
  • Smile
  • Use an open body posture


You approach criticism the same way you approach an unguarded railroad crossing, because a bad response can damage your self-image and reputation. We’re all aware of what happened when a candidate for the presidency reacted poorly to criticism. We think, how could the candidate have be so stupid?

Diffusing and learning from criticism is a valuable skill for everyone.


Be a Successful Negotiator

How can you improve your skills as a successful negotiator? That was the topic of my speech that I presented on Wednesday, March 21.

You may think Donald Trump or your favorite political candidate is the best negotiator. In fact, you are your best negotiator. You’ve been negotiating since you were born and cried for food to the present when you negotiated for your job. Negotiating has been your way of life. People invented language to negotiate.

Room for improvement exists for any skill. These are the strategies and tips that I spoke about during my talk.


Have confidence in yourself as a negotiator. A negotiator is best when he or she is speaking freely. A negotiation is another form of conversation. How do you feel when a telephone solicitor reads a sales script to you? You know the solicitor has a one-way conversations in mind. Your needs, wants, problems, and concerns are not in the script. A confident negotiator converses with the other party.

Are You Negotiating with the Right Party?

Before you begin negotiations, ask yourself if you are negotiating with the right person. Does this person have the character, competency, and power to negotiate? If he or she lacks one of these, you’ve not found the right person.

Be Outcome Aware

Be outcome oriented when negotiating. Your negotiations can end one of three ways with these associated consequences:

Lose-Lose: Neither party benefits, and in some case the negotiations damage the personal relationships or the situation become worse. Two people trying to get the best of each other lacks food faith and can create new problems.

Win-Lose: A one-sided wins usually means that one party is has control over the other and is asserting  power, not negotiating for a mutual increase in value. These are episodic relationships and result is only as good as the power of the victor to enforce it.

Win-Win: The parties agreed to an exchange that creates new value that increases wealth, status, knowledge, or well-being. Each party has improved his or her reputation by negotiating in good faith and has built a relationship for future negotiations and agreements.

Prepare Your Thinking and Speaking for the Negotiations

Analyze the Situation

Do your homework by working on these four areas to negotiate at your best:

  1. Understand your position and define it by writing down your wants, needs, problems, and concerns.
  2. Understand the other party’s position by listening and asking questions to discover his or her wants, needs, problems, and concerns. Probe for hidden concerns by using empathy and avoiding value judgments.
  3. Figure out how you can most clearly state your position so that you will be heard.
  4. Create an organized list of the options you will propose for each term you will negotiation. For non-negotiable terms, prepare to politely but firmly say, “I will not negotiate on that item.”

Lead the Discussion

Remember that you are in a conversation. Keep reminding everyone at the table that you seek an agreement that serves the interests of all parties.

Keep a win-win outcome in mind by reviewing how the points of agreement are serving your wants, needs, problems, and concerns. A win-win is not necessarily a compromise agreement. Your aim is not to compromise. Your aim is to be heard, understand the other party’s positions, and explore the options that serve the interests of both parties. That could mean getting everything you ask for, agreeing to the other party’s proposal, or fashioning alternatives that serve you both.

While negotiating, listen without judgment to the other party’s options, in the same way that you intend your options to be heard. If an option is unacceptable, say so with the reason it is unacceptable, which can include, “I will not negotiation on that option.”

Keep Flow in the Negotiations

A good conversation needs the grease of small talk. While you will stick to the issues during direct negotiations, light conversation about sports or personal interests keeps the conversation flowing during breaks and downtime.

Your negotiating style shapes the agreement and builds your reputation. A reputation for an honest and direct negotiating style may be the most important result from the negotiations. Your good reputation will encourage the other party to honor the agreement and open the door for future agreements.

Be likable and watch your language. People like to do business with a cheerful and appreciative person and will avoid a curmudgeon.


Enjoy yourself as you negotiate. People will see your upbeat temperament and want to mirror it. Work to create an agreement that serves the interests of all the parties, including those not at the table.

Superconnect by Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood: Hubs and Links

If you want to make and use connections that matter, Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood suggest that you ask yourself two questions:

  • Is this the right hub for me?
  • Do I know how to use my weak links?

In this provocative book, spurned by one critic, Koch and Lockwood discuss hubs and links, the strong and weak ones.


Your Hubs

Hubs are the groups you live with –  your family, business workplace, golf partners, religious societies, alumni organizations, and political parties. Hubs save you time by aggregating information specific to their purpose and give you launch points into connected hubs. Koch and Lockwood think that you are in the right hub if you believe it:

  • Gives you the specialized knowledge that you need.
  • Permits you to act free of authority bias and group-think.

Good hubs never go out of your life. When you are a member, they give the daily information and contacts that you need. After you move on, old hubs remain links in your extended network that you can call on for future service.


The thinking of Koch and Lockwood becomes counter-intuitive when they discuss the personal links in your life. You have strong links – your wife, children, boss, and old school chums. And you have weak links – the peer that you meet once a year at a business conference, the receptionist you say hello to on a regular basis at your client’s office, your neighbor down the block, and the foreigner you often talk with in the coffee shop near your office.

What’s the Use of a Weak Link?

You need work and new customers; your thinking needs updating to stay current; you need to find a new hub because you old hubs don’t have the specialized knowledge you need. Do you turn for answers to your strong links or your weak links?

Koch and Lockwood write that your weak links are sources of innovation and the greatest profits, while your strong links can be the most destructive and demotivating. Their thinking seems wrong. The strong links nurture and protect you. They tell you that you are a loved person. They mother you. And that is why strong links can keep you in a rut and comfortable. Growing, learning, and achieving require that you become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Weak links challenge you. Is that link a friend or foe? Linking with a brilliant person keeps you paranoid about competition, gives you a devil’s advocate for your thinking, encourages you to take the U-turns your parents would never permit, demands that you look for new customers and markets, and asks you to associate with dissidents you dislike.

Strong and Weak Links in Economic Development

Koch and Lockwood compare how strong and weak links are used in developed and underdeveloped countries.

Weak Links in a Developed Economy

Western economies grew out of their feudal economies using the contract, the paragon of a weak link relationship. Exchanges of commodities in feudal Europe were based on social rank (the lord provides protection in exchange for the serf’s grain) and custom (tithing to the king and church). Contracts leveled the field for doing business (anyone can contract), demolished barriers created by customs (the parties to the contract agree on the terms of their agreement), and set the rewards (you can work for a peppercorn or a $1 million dollars). But most importantly, contracts amplified the power of weak links. You can do business outside your family circle. Now you can go to the town square and contract with the seller with the best terms if you trust him. Which gets back to the problem with weak links.

Is your contracting partner a friend or a foe?  To answer that question, developed counties created the law of contracts and property rights to put the force of the state behind the enforcement of contracts. If your contract met the legal requirements, you could use the state to enforce the agreement.  This created an expectation that the terms of contracts would be enforced. Now you could do business with anyone outside your family if they know the rules and submit to the jurisdiction of the enforcing authority. Modern capitalism took off and wealth grew exponentially.

These are the lessons the developing countries are learning.

Strong Links Dominate an Underdeveloped Economy

Underdeveloped countries exclude classes of people from using their weak links to do business with strangers and casual acquaintances. Nations without a legacy of laws and standardized enforcement require common citizens to do business with their networks of families, neighbors, and close social relationships. The privileged in these countries use their government connections to enforce agreements at the will of the state. Demanding a contract be enforced could become a prison sentence for a commoner.

Weak Links Have Economic Value

In developed countries, weak social and economic links thrive and receive state sanction. These counties have highly developed laws regulating property rights, contacts, credit and banking, and the valuing of goodwill – a commodity without value in feudal Europe and most underdeveloped countries.


Hubs put you in touch with the specialized information you need for work and advancement. Hubs serve you when you are an active member and after you leave if you keep up with the hub. Not all hubs are right for you, and hubs can go bad, requiring that you take action. We know the story of President Obama divorcing himself from his former pastor to get the hub out of his political life.

Strong links make you feel good as a person, while weak links teach you to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. When you are uncomfortable, you are on the move to learn, create, and achieve beyond the dreams of your parents.

I recommend Superconnect by Richard Koch Richard and Greg Lockwood.