Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Becoming The Receiving End

Whether you deserve it or not, you will be the subject of criticism at one point or another in your life. Be ready. If the criticism is justified, accept it and treat it as a problem that needs to be resolved. Acknowledge that you have a challenge ahead of you and make it clear to the person who pointed out the shortcoming that you intend to address it.
If you believe that the criticism is unjustified or delivered harshly or publicly, you have every right to react in a different way. However, if you get angry and start shooting back, you will end up saying things you will regret and so will the person who offered the criticism in the first place. In this situation it is usually best to put off discussing the matter: “Let’s talk about this when we’re both a little calmer” or “We ought to get together and work this out. What’s a good time for you?” If someone says something critical about you in the presence of others, you can try “freezing” your critic by stopping whatever you are doing or saying and looking the person dead in the eye for a moment. Or you can say something like “Very little good comes of criticizing others in public. Please tell me your objections (or problems) in private.”
If you’re not sure that the criticism is justified or if you need time to think it over, you can say, “I’m glad you’re letting me know what’s on your mind. I’d like to think about it and get back to you.”
If you know you’ve goofed, it’s sometimes best to just say, “I apologize,” and that’s all. Depending on the situation, something more may be required: “I never intended to (embarrass, upset, offend) you, but I can see that I did, and I’m sorry.” But don’t whine, don’t grovel, and don’t make excuses or try to shift the blame.

Softening the Blow

When delivering criticism, keep these points in mind:
➤ Avoid the “but” bomb. “I thought the points you made in your report were excellent, but ….” The but bomb immediately sends up a flare and triggers a defensive reaction. The person hears but and begins constructing a reply instead of listening closely to your further comments. Try: “I thought your report was outstanding, and next time I suggest you include ….” Next time does not invalidate the first part of the sentence as but does.

➤ Keep it impersonal. Never say that some act or person was dumb or wrong. Talk about behavior, not personality.
➤ Keep it private. If you criticize someone in the presence of others, the person is not thinking about your message, but about being humiliated.
➤ Be specific. Don’t criticize in generalizations. Mention specific incidents or behaviors.
➤ Soften the impact. Try beginning with a compliment: “You are usually a very considerate person. That’s why I was so surprised at your behavior at lunch today.”
➤ Try advice. You can also deliver criticism in the form of advice. Instead of saying, “You’ll never even reach the basket if you shoot the ball like that,” say, “I’ve found that keeping my elbows in close gives the shot more power.”

Making Gestures With a Foreigner

When traveling abroad, some innocent or even friendly gestures can get you into trouble. These include making a circle of the thumb and index finger, pointing the index finger, and giving the thumbs-up sign.
Here are some other cautions:

➤ Avoid using the crooked index finger in a beckoning gesture. In many cultures the beckoning gesture is done with the arm extended and the fingers making an inward sweeping motion.
➤ In some places you may see people clap their hands or snap their fingers to get the attention of waiters or servants. In general, however, it is wise for the visitor to avoid doing either.
➤ The V for victory sign is insulting in England if the palm is turned inward. In fact, you should avoid this gesture altogether.
➤ Propping up your foot so that the sole of your shoe is facing someone is considered grossly insulting in most Asian countries and in parts of the Middle East.
➤ In some cultures it is considered rude to engage in conversation with your arms folded over your chest or with your arms akimbo (hands on hips). Avoiding etiquette errors when dealing with people from other cultures, either at home or abroad, is difficult—and may even be impossible. The world is a complex mosaic of customs and attitudes, and even the most well-traveled and well-read person can transgress unknowingly.

So, although you may not always be correct, you must always be courteous. A willingness to confess ignorance and to ask for help, the ability to apologize gracefully, and a friendly, open attitude will get you through most difficulties. Don’t let anxiety about making social blunders cause your relations with those from other cultures to be mannered or stiff. Approach learning about new places and people with a spirit of adventure and a desire to learn, and you will generally find that people are more than willing to forgive innocent breaches of etiquette.