Solution to David’s Tuesday Tip #10*

This was yesterday’s paradoxical tip of the day!

There’s no such thing as a false criticism.

The best way to explain this is through a specific criticism you have received from someone. You can nearly always, if not always, find some truth in it. When people criticize you, they always have something in mind about you that’s bugging them. And even if they express their criticism in an exaggerated way, you can still find the truth in what they are saying if you are motivated to really SEE and comprehend what they are trying to tell you.

The most obvious example of a tough criticism to agree with might be the outburst from a hospitalized individual with schizophrenia who angrily says something to you that sounds delusional, like “I know you are from the FBI plotting to have me killed, and don’t you deny it!”

Is there some truth in this criticism? Of course there is, and if you think about your therapy session with this individual yesterday, you might recall that it was pretty tense, so you could say something like this:

“Jim, I have to agree with you. We’re on the same page. Yesterday I thought I didn’t do a good job making you feel safe or cared about during our therapy session, and I don’t think I communicated enough warmth or respect. It was awkward for me to, and I’ve been criticizing myself as well, especially since I really do like you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were feeling anxious, scared, mistrustful, and even angry with me. Can you tell me what that was like for you? Your feelings are really important, and I want to hear more about what you’ve been thinking and feeling.”

That’s just off the top of my head, and you could probably improve on it. But the odds are about 90% that Jim will calm right down and open up. Of course, your statement has to be genuine, and it has to come from the heart, or it won’t be effective.

The statement I wrote is an example of the Disarming Technique, which is one of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. When you us the Disarming Technique, you find truth in what the other person is saying, even if it seems totally untrue or unfair. And the moment you do this, if you do it skillfully, the other personal will nearly always stop believing their criticism. This is a paradox. In other words, you can usually put the lie to a criticism by genuinely agreeing with it, showing self-respect and respect for the other person.

But this is hard because:

  1. It is a high art form that requires lots of practice.
  2. It requires genuine humility and the death of the “ego,” or “self.” The Buddha called this the “Great Death,” but the concept is woven into nearly all religions.
  3. It requires the strong desire to have a close and rewarding relationship with the person who is criticizing you.

Very few people will fulfill these three requirements. That’s one of the main reasons why we continue to have so much conflict and suffering in the world, both between individuals (married couples, friends, family members, strangers, and colleagues) as well as between religions, nations, political parties, and so forth. We all want to be “right.” I have often said that “truth” is the cause of nearly all the suffering in the world today.

There’s another paradox. Did you get it?



* Copyright © 2018 by David D. Burns, MD.

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4 thoughts on “Solution to David’s Tuesday Tip #10*

  1. Hi David,

    Good timing on this podcast!

    I am in wine and beer sales and went into a small account today that I hadn’t been in for quite some time.

    I asked the owner if she needed anything and she said just two cases of the big bottles. I said something like ‘we don’t have the big bottles’ and she said ‘you don’t know your product, do you?’ and laughed.

    My first reaction was she’s full of crap; I do know my product! Fact of the matter was she was right – we do carry the big bottles!

    So, I learned a good (kinda painful!) lesson that in fact I didn’t know the product as well and will make sure when I go in again that I will have 100% product knowledge.

    To your truth paradox, this is a good example in my opinion as we both felt we were right (true).

    As usual, thanks for posting these wonderful tips!


  2. I think of criticism as feedback on how one person has failed to meet the expectations of another. In this sense the criticism is always 100% correct because it is about how one person is perceiving the actions of another, but it may also be the result of a misunderstanding.

    When in this position I accept anothers feelings as valid from their point of view and empathize to express my understanding of how they feel. I ask for clarification about what my behavior means to them. I may also ask what they would like me to do differently to remove their objections.

    However, all the while I don’t necessarily accept that I am at “fault” for doing something “wrong” (not referring to aggression or illegalities here), just that they object to what I’m doing. I don’t feel a criticism necessarily mandates a change. (Was Trump correct in cancelling the joint military exercises with South Korea because Kim Jong Ung criticised them as an aggressive provocation? Were his actions an acceptance of the validity of Kim’s criticisms or just a cop-out on our resposibilities to So. Korea so he could make points with Kim?)

    Is my thinking on this (not the comments on Trump) consistent with yours or do you feel my “self” is still too alive here?

    • All good thoughts. I shy away from politics due to the heated environment we find ourselves in, as people get enormously fired up one way or the other these days (me too!), and my focus is a bit different. At any rate, if you have a specific criticism someone fired at you, I can make much clearer comments on it. I find the general discussion sometimes misses the point, but when we work with a real example everything suddenly looks much different! Thanks so much Dave! David

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