A Strategy for Responding to Criticism
by Steve Andreas & Connirae Andreas, Ph.D.
One of the fundamental presuppositions of NLP
is that “There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.”
That's a nice thought, and it points in a very useful direction. However,
for a majority of people it's just a cute sentence that doesn't automatically
change their experience or response. Most people (roughly 70%) respond
to criticism with immediate over¬whelming bad feelings. Then they
try to climb out of the emotional hole they have just dug for themselves
by rationalizing, trying to access a good state, trying to be objective,
etc. Since they are already in a bad state, usually none of these attempts
work very well. And since most of their efforts are directed at regaining
a good state, they typically do not make good use of any feedback information
contained in the criticism. If they do make use of this information,
it's usually much later.
At the other extreme, some people (perhaps 20%)
respond to criticism by simply rejecting it. They protect themselves
from any bad feelings, but they also prevent themselves from even considering
whether any part of the criticism they receive is valid or useful feedback.
A third group (less than 10%) can listen to
criticism without imme¬diately feeling bad. They can also carefully
consider whether the criticism contains useful information, and use
that feedback in a productive way to modify their future behavior.
Of course these three groups aren't rigid categories.
You can probably find an example of each of these different responses
in your own life, depending upon your state of mind, the context, the
criticizer, the frame, etc. Most of us occasionally get into bad states
in which we respond unpleasantly to the most innocuous comment. Most
of us also have times when we're in such a good state that no matter
how harshly we're criticized we can process it simply as interesting
Several years ago we became curious about the
internal structure that allowed the “experts” at responding
well to criticism to do it with such ease. We have modeled a number
of people who are characteristically very good at responding to criticism
in a useful way. While there are. slight variations, all of them use
the same basic internal process, and this strategy can be easily and
quickly taught to others.
(The following transcript is edited from a videotape
of Steve demon¬strating how to install this strategy in Carl, a
participant in one of our Practitioner Certification Trainings in January,
1987. This demonstration and some additional discussion is available
on a videotape.
Steve: We are going to do two things as I demonstrate
this. One, I am going to demonstrate installing the strategy itself,
and going through the different forks of the strategy and so on. The
other thing I am going to do is demonstrate a sneaky way of installing
a strategy, and that is by doing it in a dissociated state. And that
is going to be kind of a trip for you, Carl, because you are not that
hip on dissociation, are you?
Carl: Um, no, I like doing dissociation.
Steve: Can you do that? (Umhm.) OK. Great. So
what I want you to do is see Carl out here in some situation in which
someone might give him some kind of feedback which could be construed
as criticism. You just see it out there, OK? (Carl leans back a little.)
There you go! That's better. Good. You can see him as far away as you
want. You can put a sheet of Plexiglas here if you want. (Carl smiles
and nods.) Oh, you like that one, don't you? OK, good. And I want you
to stay in this dissociated state. What you are going to do is watch
him go through this strategy. So you are just going to be an observer,
and your function as an observer is to note at any time if any kind
of problems come up with him out there. Then you can let me know about
those and then we can do something to make it right. (OK.)
OK, great. So you are just going to watch this.
And another way of framing this for people is that we are just going
to try it out, out here, and we are not going to install it in him until
it is all done, and it is totally OK out here; we are not going to do
anything to him in here. Now in a way that is a bit of a scam. But it
is a really useful scam with some people who are really wary: “Nnnehh,
don't meddle with my brain,” or something like that. In one sense
it's true that it will not be installed until and unless any ecological
concerns have been dealt with. So that part of it is true. However,
when you are seeing yourself out here going through it, you are also
learning by self—metaphor inside. So this is the you that is going
to learn a new way of responding to criticism, because I guess you are
not too happy with the one you've got right now. Is that right?
Carl: (shaking head) No way, Jose. I don't like
Steve: OK, good. So see him out there, and in
a moment someone else is going to say something which could be construed
as criticism. And what he is gong to do is something very, very important.
He is going to dissociate from the criticism. (OK.) So you are going
to watch him—(Carl: Dissociate, while I am dissociated.) While
you are dissociated, right. (Oh, OK.)
Steve: It is sort of like the phobia procedure,
where you have a three—place dissociation, and the function is
the same. So someone is going to say something to Carl. And you can
just make it up, what somebody might come over and say to him. And that
Carl over there is going to keep this away somehow, (OK.) until he has
had a chance to completely evaluate it. Now there are a couple of ways
that he can do it. He can hear the words and imagine them printed out
in space at arm's length. Or he can listen to them, but at a distance.
And he can do that in several different ways
and you can just watch and see how he does that. So, watch him as he
hears the criticism. And it is some kind of criticism about him. And
he is going to keep that sort of at arm's length. He is going to stay
dissociated from it. And he is going to then make a picture of whatever
that criticism is, preferably a movie. So he is going to make a representation
of the criticism, dissociated. (OK.) And then he is going to compare
that movie with a movie of whatever best information he has about that
same situation. Is that clear? (Yeah.) OK. To evaluate it and say, “Well,
does that make sense?” Is there some way that he can make sense
out of that? Now, as you watch him do that, canhe make some understanding
of that? Does it make sense that someone could have said that about
Carl: It makes a lot of sense.
OK, it makes a lot of sense. At this point I
want you to watch him decide on what kind of response he wants to make
to that information. Because if it makes sense, that means it is good
information that he didn't have before, right? (Yeah.) So he might say,
“Thank you,” or “Boy, I'm glad you brought that to
my attention. I'll see what I can do about that.” Or whatever.
Carl: Already he doesn't feel like shit inside.
I mean—(laughter). That's a good plan.
Carl: It just feels a whole lot better.
OK. And it is going to be easier for him now
to make good use of whatever information is there because he doesn't
feel like shit inside, right?
Carl: Right! Right. It is a whole lot easier
for him to be objective about it.
Exactly. That is what “objective”
is, by the way. “Objective” means you are dissociated. So,
as you watch him, I want you to notice him go through the process of
deciding what kind of response is appropriate to this situation, in
terms of what he might do differently in the future; some kind of changes
that he might decide he wants to go through, or whatever would be appropriate,
a useful response to this information that has just been given to him.
. . . OK, so he has gone through the decision process. And now have
him actually carry that out, if it is appropriate to do that now and
respond to this. Somebody criticized him, right? So if there is an appropriate
response to this person like, “Thank you for bringing this to
my attention,” or “Boy, I screwed up,” or¬
Carl: Yeah! That's exactly what he did. He thanks
That's a new one, huh? Instead of punching him
Carl: Yeah. He never thanked him before. In
the past it wasn't so much anger towards the person, it was just anger
towards himself (OK, all right), and he doesn't have to feel angry at
himself any more. He can accept it as learning.
Great. And when he has completed that interaction
with that person, I want you to watch him as he takes the time to future—pace
doing something different in the future. So he has made some decisions
about what he missed, or he didn't notice, or he was careless, or whatever
it was. (Right.)
How can he future—pace a new behavior?
He might have to decide on a new behavior first. What is he going to
do differently in the future, as you watch him future—pace that—so
he goes through the decision when and where does he want to be different,
and how, specifically. You might quickly run through some old responses
or use the “New Behavior Gener¬ator,” or whatever. OK.
Has he done that change already? (Yeah.) OK.
Carl: Really, yeah. He doesn't feel the tension
inside. He is glad the whole thing happened in the first place, because
he is learning from it.
Is this a little different than your past experiences?
Carl: He has never experienced that in his life.
It looks like it, doesn't it? (laughter) It
looks like he just saw an angel come down out of the sky!
Carl: It is best, you know, and the context
is with family, and—he just has not had an easy time with family
before, but this is just—I mean, he is actually smiling.
OK. I would like you to run through a different
scenario, a little bit different. So again you see him out here and
nobody's around yet. (OK.) And this time, somebody's going to come up
and either give a very vague criticism like “You skunk,”
or “You turkey,” or something like that, so that he has
to actually pause and gather information—because he hears “You
turkey” and he makes a picture of a turkey and he makes a picture
of himself and they don't match, right? (laughter) So he is going to
have to gather information like, “Well, can you tell me more?
How, specifically, am I a turkey?” or whatever, until he gets
the information: “What is this person really commenting on?”
Carl: “What are they trying to tell him?”
“What are they trying to tell him?” And he can do this in
a fairly polite, neutral way because he is just¬
Carl: He can dissociate.
Dissociate. And he just wants to have the information.
And when he has got sufficient information that he can make a movie
of what this person is concerned about, then he can again go through
this thing. . . . Now, his time around does it match or not?
Carl: After they have told him?
After they have given him some details, is there
some kind of match. . . a little bit?
Carl: Yeah. It was more of a humorous thing
than anything else. (OK.) But he probably would not have known that
if he hadn't asked the questions. “How specifically am I a turkey?
(laughter) In the past he probably wouldn't have questioned it. He would
have just thought, “Yeah, I'm a turkey.” Either that, or
“Screw you, you're a turkey, too.”
Right. Screw you, OK. Now watch him, as he again
goes through this procedure of deciding what response to make to this
person. You may have done this already. And then in the future is there
any way that he wants to behave differently? Is there anything useful?
And sometimes, if it is just a playful thing, it may be just kind of
banter back and forth and doesn't matter, and there is not really any
impetus to change behavior. . . .
OK, now I want you to run through it one more
time. This time some real weirdo comes up just out of the blue on the
street and makes some weird comment that you can't make head nor tail
out of. (OK.) And again he asks, you know, “Well, can you say
more about this?” Or, “How specifically?” or something
like that. And he just gets “word salad” back, you know;
this is a schizophrenic who just got loose from the hospital or something.
And when you make a movie of what his pictures are, and what you can
remember of what just happened, it just doesn't match at all. (Right.)
And at a certain point you say, “Thanks, but no thanks,”
or “Excuse me,” or something like that. You make a concerted
effort to find out what the person means, and if there is any real information
in this—or is this just an insult that comes out of their own
internal space, in which case you can safely dismiss it, because you
don't have any— (Carl: It's not worth it.) It's not worth it,
because it doesn't have information that you want to use to change your
behavior in the future, right?
Carl: You are not going to learn from it.
Right. OK, now, watching that Carl over there
go through all that, I
gather this feels real good. Right? (Real good.) It looks nice? (Looks
nice.) Is there any problem with any part of that? Is there any part
of that that you would want to adjust in any way, or that you have any
concerns about? . . .
Carl: The only thing is that I just—I
want this to happen. I want to be in there. I don't want to be dissociated!
Well, that is the next step. But it looks good
out there, right? (No problems.) OK, great.
OK, gradually reach out and beckon to that one
out there (Steve demonstrates reaching out with his arms and then bringing
them slowly back toward his chest), and very gradually, at your own
speed, just bring him in to you, and make him totally a part of you.
(Carl reaches out and brings the other Carl back in. As he does this,
there are a lot of nonverbal shifts—deeper breathing, color changes,
etc.—that indicate a powerful integration with a lot of feeling.)
. . . Take a couple of minutes, to take that all in. . . . Just hang
out there for a while. . . . (Carl wipes his eyes.) This is a biggie
for you, isn't it? (Carl nods.) I am glad you came up here. That's good.
. . . So you just take a little time to hang in there for a while and
just let all that stuff kind of settle down. Take as much time as you
want. I am going to go through stuff with the group; you just hang out
OK, do you have any questions? You can take
a look at the outline sheet if you want. OK.
Dee: Well, either I missed it or something,
but you didn't have him do one, that I saw, where somebody that he really
cared about, respected, admired, and he was really close to, said something
totally tacky, tasteless, and vicious to him.
When you are in a small group, make sure that they do that with you.
Dee: OK. Well, I mean it is fine if some clown
walks up to you, you go (she shrugs) “Who cares?” But if
somebody you care about does that, it is not all that easy to take.
It is different, right. Now he actually picked somebody in his own family—
Carl: That's what I started out with.
So he actually started out with something like
Carl: Because, you know, as far as I am concerned,
that is the hardest—was the hardest for me, and I didn't get angry
at the person who gave it to me. I was angry at myself for not being
able to respond to it in the way I would like to. And, as far as my
own family goes, I know that they love me in the first place, and in
their eyes it's constructive. It's just that the way I was receiving
it, you know. I would automatically second guess myself on something
I was doing, and automatically just go, “Yeah, I'm this rotten
person.” And so I knew that their intentions were good; it was
just how I responded to it. And being able to dissociate and watch me
Dee: OK. But would you have felt the same way
if what they said—like you said “Oh, yeah, I can see that
that's valid.” Suppose that it was totally not valid for you.
It might have been for them and they might think so, but it is absolutely
not real to you that that is true. Would you have felt the same way?
Carl: As I was watching it like that? Yes. I
am protected. Before, in the past, it just was coming right into me.
(Carl gestures toward his mid—chest.) But to be able to see what
they are telling me up on a picture and have that dissociation is just
like the fast phobia cure, it enables you to experience something, and
be apart from it, so you don't have to associate and feel like crap
about it. (Take it in physiologically.) That's right. You could say
anything to me right now, if you want, and we can test it out.
Dee: Well, I don't have anything mean to say
I have taught this a lot of times, but you have really been the slowest.
(Carl looks up and smiles.) This is testing. This is called testing,
Dee: I thought he was the most touching. He
got me right in my heart.
If there is a particular situation, Dee, that
is the one that always gets you or something like that, I recommend
that you don't use that as the first thing to run through this. Because
when you're first learning to drive, you don't get in a car and go straight
to Le Mans or Daytona Beach or something like that—you learn,
hopefully, on a dirt track or a football field or something like that.
But by all means do use this with whatever is for you the most difficult
kind of criticism to take, whether it's a boss or a spouse or a child,
or whoever. By all means use it at some point, after you have gained
some fluency with the different steps, because otherwise you may get
stuck in one step and the whole thing may fall apart. By all means test
it. And I agree with what I think is the intent of your comment: “Well,
you know, this may work on some things, but how about those real tough
ones?” By all means do it on the tough ones. It will work on that
if you really install the system, because the strategy—just like
the fast phobia cure—establishes that dissociation so that you
can watch it all out there. One of the lovely things about this installation
method is if the you out there screws up.
Carl: You are protected from it.
You are protected. You can just watch it, and
then you can just back up the movie and say, “OK” and you
make some adjustment, and then you run it forward again, so that—
Carl: You have total control, whatever happens.
So it has been about two weeks now. So, tell
the folks out there.
Carl: Well, after the criticism strategy was
installed, a couple of
people here would—out of the clear blue sky—just walk up
to me and call me a jerk and stuff, and then they would start laughing
because they were just trying to test it, but¬—
So that wasn't a very good test, right?
Carl: No, the real world is where it needed
to be done. And in my job, I never realized this before, but I go into
people's homes, and I remove equipment that my company has installed
there. And when I remove it, it leaves holes in their walls, and everywhere.
And they originally signed a contract that we are not responsible or
anything. I am the person there, and I am the one that they yell and
scream at. I never realized before that that would bother me, you know,
unconsciously. But when it would happen in the last two weeks, I would
automatically take a step back (Carl’s body moves back slightly)
and I am doing it right now because I am remembering it. And when it
would first start happening, it would consciously happen and I would
see it, and decide whether it was worth it or not, and go on from there.
And the more it would happen, the faster it became. So the people I
work with, they just wired it in really great for me. So I was almost
reframing. It was like, you know, “Keep it up, man! This is great
The more the better. (Yeah.) That is how it
works. When you install a new system like that, the more it gets to
run, the more automatic it becomes. Now, you said consciously you'd
take a step back. It was that you conscious¬ly noticed, right? (Right.)
It wasn't that you would consciously think about doing it, right?
Carl: No, no, no, no. That happened on its own.
A couple of times during driving—I do a lot of driving—I
would cut somebody off and it would work real well there, too. (laughter)
Especially, you know, in the past I would always be going, “Oh,
I am a terrible driver,” and then if it was warranted, I'd say,
“Yeah, well, next time I have to do a little bit better. “
Good. I was a little worried there for a moment
that I'd turned you into a lousy driver.
Carl: I think the best test happened yesterday.
I got my hair cut, and I felt pretty good about it. I thought it looked
pretty good, and I went home, just to my parents. I don't live there,
but I just went by to see them. And I said, “I got my hair cut,
Mom.” And she looked at me and she goes, “What about the
back?” back here, because usually I get it all cut. And she was
serious, you know, “What about the back?” And instantly:
step back, “Is this warranted?” “No.” It was
really powerful. And for it to be with her—the family scene—and
for me not to plan, it was totally unconscious, and it was really powerful.
So, I am a success.
OK. Thanks a lot.
Carl: Thank you.
(We now have follow—up 15 years after
this session; Carl still responds well to criticism, and he has also
taught the process to his children. )
Review of the Process
1. Install the strategy in a dissociated
state. “Ann. see yourself out there in front of you.
That Ann is about to learn a new way to respond to criticism.”
Do whatever you need to do to maintain the dissociation.
“You can see Ann as far away as you want
to, or in black and white, and you can put up a plexiglass barrier in
front of you if that helps you stay here as an observer.”
Always use pronouns and location words, such
as “her, out there,” to keep that distance and dissociation.
Be sure to watch for the nonverbals of dissociation. When Carl was first
up here, he started seeing himself over there, and then his shoulders
and head came back, which was a good indication that he was getting
more fully dissociated. So make sure that the client looks different
when she is dissociated than when she is associated.
A few people will prefer to use auditory dissociation—hearing
them¬selves on a tape recorder at another location in space—or
very rarely even kinesthetic dissociation—feeling themselves with
their fingertips at another location in space. You can also use the
“as if” frame or vague language for people who don't consciously
visualize: “Pretend that you can see yourself over there.”
“Get a sense that you are behind a plexiglass shield.”
2. Dissociate from the criticism.
“That Ann over there is about to be criticized. Watch and listen
as she immediately dissociates from the criticism.” There are
various ways for her to do this. One way is for that Ann over there
to see herself getting criticized. Another way is for her to print the
words of the criticism out in space at about arm's length, or she can
step out of her body and see herself receiving the criticism. If simple
dissociation alone isn't enough to keep that Ann in front of you in
a resourceful state, try using some other supporting submodality shifts.
Have that Ann make that dissociated picture of being criticized smaller,
farther away, transparent, dimmer, or any other submodality shift that
sufficiently diminishes her response. The dissociation prevents the
immediate bad feel¬ings that so many people experience, and it also
provides the objective viewpoint necessary for the next step.
3. Make a dissociated representation
of the content of the criticism. “Watch Ann as she makes
a movie of what the criticizer is saying.” Again, that Ann can
make this representation smaller and farther away in order for her to
maintain a resourceful state. Some people make such big, bright, and
close pictures of the “awful” thing they did, that it's
very difficult for them to maintain a resource state. She can move it
far enough away, or whatever, so that she can be comfortable, yet still
see it clearly.
Before you can evaluate criticism, you need
to understand it. What does this person mean? If someone says, “You're
twenty minutes late; now we'll either have to rush or be late to the
movie,” you can easily make a reasonably detailed internal representation
of that information in all major representational systems.
However, often criticism is too vague to understand
well. If someone says, “You're a skunk,” or “You're
inconsiderate,” that Ann will have to gather more specific information
in order to know exactly what the criticizer means. Before asking for
more information, it is always useful to pace the criticizer in some
way: “I'm concerned that you think I'm a skunk,” “I
appreciate your honesty in telling me that,” “I'm sorry
that I upset you,” etc. Then you can ask, “What specifically
did I do that was inconsiderate?”
“Watch that Ann continue to gather information
until she can make a clear and detailed representation of the criticism
in all major representa¬tional systems.”
4. Evaluate the criticism, gathering
information when necessary. “Watch Ann as she compares
her representation of the criticism with all other information she has
about the situation, in order to find out if they match or mismatch.”
The simplest and most direct way to do this is to have Ann rerun her
own remembered movies of the event and compare them with a movie of
the criticism. She can also run movies of the event from different viewpoints,
including that of the criticizer, an onlooker, or another relevant person.
If she has comments from other onlookers, these may also be useful in
evaluating whether or not the criticism contains valid, useful information.
If there is a complete mismatch between the
memory and the criticism when she does this, she may need to back up
to Step 2 and gather more information about the criticism. For instance,
she may not have understood that when the criticizer said she was “shouting”
and “ranting,” he meant that the volume and pitch of her
voice increased by 10%, and this is something that he is very sensitive
to because of a history of being abused.
If there is still a complete mismatch after
repeated information—gath¬ering, it may be time for her to
conclude that she simply disagrees. The criticizer may be hallucinating
or in some other way internally generating experience. His comments
aren't really about her, but about himself, his past history, etc. Of
course it's also possible that she may have amnesia for what he's talking
about, or that her perspective is so different that she hasn't yet found
a way to understand the criticizer. Depending on the situation, it mayor
may not be worthwhile for her to continue to work toward understanding.
Usually there will be at least some match between
that Ann's repre¬sentation and the critizer's. When this is true,
she can acknowledge the parts that match, and ask for more information
about the parts that she doesn't yet understand.
When the two representations do match, this
is equivalent to saying that according to her best information—and
the more she has, the better!—the criticism is accurate feedback
information that is useful for her to know about.
5. Decide on a response. “Watch
Ann as she decides what she wants to do.” So far her only response
to the criticizer has been pacing and information—gathering. It
is now time for a response, even if it's only an all—purpose response,
such as, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention; I'll have
to give this some serious thought.” Ann's response will depend
on who she is as a person—her outcomes, criteria, values—as
well as the context and the criticism itself. She may want to offer
an apology, or even some kind of restitution to compensate for what
she's done. On the other hand, if her intention was to annoy the criticizer,
a simple, “You got my message” may be appropriate. If there
is a complete mismatch, she can respond by saying simply, “That's
certainly not the way I remember it.” If his view is a possible
interpretation of her behavior, she can say, “That certainly isn't
the message I meant to convey, but I can see how you could understand
it that way. What I intended to do was Y,” and clarify the misunderstanding.
“Observe Ann as she carries out her chosen
6. Consider changing future behavior.
“Ask the Ann out there, 'Do you want to use the information you
got from this criticism to act differently in the future?' “ If
so, watch as Ann selects the new behavior(s), and future—paces
the new behavior(s). In step five, you watched Ann respond to the criticizer
in the “present.” In this step, you watch Ann decide whether
she wants to adjust her behavior in order to get a different response
from the criticizer or others in the future. If she does want to be
different in the future, now is the time for her to select or create
new behaviors and future—pace them into the appropriate contexts.
If she doesn't have time at the moment, she can take a minute to carefully
record what she wants to change, and program herself to make these changes
at a specific time and place when she'll have time to do it. This is
future—pacing the process of future—pacing to a time when
she can do it more thoroughly.
7. Repetition. It's useful
to repeat the strategy two or three times. Each rehearsal should utilize
one or more of the major optional elements in the strategy that were
not used in previous rehearsals. For instance, if the criticism in the
first example was detailed and specific, the next criticism should be
so vague that Ann has to gather information in order to make a representation
of the criticism. “Watch Ann over there in another situation where
she is about to be criticized. This time the criticism will be very
general, so she will have to gather detailed information about what
the criticizer means. Watch and listen carefully as Ann goes through
the same sequence in this situation.” The major optional elements
a. Gathering information when
the criticism is vague.
b. Matching or mismatching
when comparing the representation of the criticism with your own representation
of the same event.
c. Deciding on a response in
the immediate situation.
d. Using the information in
the criticism to select and future—pace new behavior for the future.
Usually about three rehearsals are enough to
install the new strategy. When you think the strategy is installed,
you can test: “Ask Ann if she understands this method for responding
to criticism well enough to auto¬matically use it any time in the
future that you receive criticism.” If the answer is “No,”
identify the specific lack of understanding and fix it, or observe her
as she runs through the sequence a few more times.
8. Reassociate with the part of you
that learned this strategy. It is time to reassociate with
the dissociated self in order to incorporate the strategy. “You
have just watched a part of yourself learn a new way of responding to
criticism in a useful way. I want you to thank her for being a special
resource to you in this way. . . . Now I want you to actually reach
out with your hands and arms, embrace that Ann, and gently bring her
back into you, taking all the time you need, so that all those learnings
will be available to you immediately and unconsciously any time you
find yourself being criticized in the future.”
As with any NLP technique, you want to be sensitive
to any possible objections along the way, and adapt what you do accordingly.
If you think of a criticism made about you,
and use that content to go through the steps of the strategy in your
imagination, you can install the strategy in yourself by a process of
dissociated rehearsal. The strategy can become really smooth and automatic
if you repeat this process with several different kinds of criticism
from different people in your life, and in different contexts, so that
you generalize and use all elements in the strategy. Although you can
install this strategy in yourself, since so many people respond so quickly
and “phobically” to criticism, we have found it very helpful
to have someone else help you establish the dissociation and offer guidance
as you install this strategy.
1. Install the strategy in a dissociated state.
2. Dissociate from the criticism.
3. Make a dissociated representation of the content of the criticism.
4. Evaluate the criticism, gathering information when necessary.
5. Decide on a response.
6. Consider changing future behavior.
8. Reassociate with the part of you that learned this strategy.
All good NLP work involves testing before and after intervening, to
be sure that useful change has occurred. We have presupposed that your
client has already demonstrated to you an unuseful response to criticism.
Since behavioral testing is always the best, you can test by saying—with
congruent nonverbal analogue behavior: “I've taught this process
to a lot of people, but you sure asked the dumbest questions,”
and observe his response. It can also be useful to test in the client's
imagination with all the major different contexts (people, places, situations,
etc.) that previously were problematic, to make sure that he has generalized
this new skill fully.
Since few people have a good way of evaluating criticism objectively
and responding to it congruently, we have found this strategy very useful
for most clients. The people to whom we have taught it report that they
have easily taught it to others as well, so it is the pattern itself
that works; the change is not due to a particular personal style, charisma,
or other chance events. Some of our students routinely install it in
all their clients because it is so useful. When you teach someone this
strategy, you are actually installing a piece of internal reference,
a way for people to depend more on their own internal evaluations while
remaining open to external feedback. Do you have any questions?
Joan: You used a double dissociation to teach the strategy. And then
you bring that part of you in. Now when you get criticized, do you have
one or two dissociations?
You just have one dissociation. You have reintegrated the first dissociation
that you used to learn the strategy.
Mark: Give some suggestions about how you could have someone generate
this strategy into the past. I'm thinking of one particular client who
is still smarting from old criticisms.
Here we used a criticism in the present; you can do the same thing in
the past. Think of a criticism that really devastated you in the past,
and see yourself out there about to get that criticism. When you go
through the whole strategy, you will be effectively combining this strategy
with the changing personal history pattern. Some people have used this
strategy to review difficult past relationships and learn from them.
As they gather information, often they have been deeply touched by important
things they learn, and have felt a sense of resolution and relief. This
kind of information can also have a healing effect on continuing relationships.
Sylvia: I don't have too much trouble with others' criticism, but a
lot of the time I criticize myself, and I am more critical of myself
than anyone else is. How can I deal with that?
You can use the same strategy with an internal voice, or with whatever
part of you criticizes you. Just dissociate from that voice. And let
me give you a great way to do it. Where do you hear this voice in your
Sylvia: Where do I hear it in my head? What geographical
Yeah. Do you hear it over here (gesturing right) or here (gesturing
left) or here (gesturing top) or right in the middle, or. . . ?
Sylvia: More in the left side of my head.
Can you hear that voice now? Imagine it saying something critical to
you. What kind of thing might it say? “You didn't do that very
Sylvia: Yeah. “What a stupid thing to do.”
“What a stupid thing to do.” Great. Now, hear that voice
come out of your left big toe. . . . (laughter) It is really different,
Sylvia: Yeah, it sure is.
That provides that distance, that auditory dissociation. And then you
can go through the same strategy with that internal critical voice.
Bill: While we are doing this installation,
everybody's forewarned that what's about to come is criticism, so the
shield can be up in advance. Real life isn't like that; it seems like
I feel bad first, and then I realize, “Oh, I just got criticized,”
but the knife's already in me.
This has never been a problem. If you find that it is a problem for
you, then take a little time to determine your “early warning
system” for criticism. How do you know that someone is starting
to say something about you? Use that as the starting cue for installing
the strategy. It is a logical possibility, but it has never been a practical
problem in installing this strategy.
Sally: Can you use this strategy in situations
where someone else is criticizing you to another person, and it is coming
back to you through that third person?
Sure. The input channel doesn't matter. The
same strategy works if someone criticizes you on the telephone, or in
writing, or in any other way. The input could also be purely nonverbal.
Someone can look “pained,” or sigh, or turn away with a
“disgusted” look, or whatever. If you want to be absolutely
sure, you can use a different input channel for each rehearsal, to force
the person to generalize to different modes of input.
Although fewer people complain about it, we
have noticed that many people are just as vulnerable to flattery as
they are to criticism. People can “butter them up” with
compliments and then take advantage of them, or blind them to problem
behaviors that need correcting. One of our favorite paradox fortune
cookie fortunes says, “You are much too intelligent to be affected
by flattery.” (laughter) If you don't carefully evaluate compliments,
you can easily believe things about yourself that aren't true. People
with flattering self—delusions are less open to feedback, and
when it finally becomes unavoidable, it's usually much more devastating;
people not only have to adjust to the mismatch between their behavior
and someone else's criticism, they also have to adjust to the mismatch
between their behavior and their own delusions. Sometimes people who
don't have a way to evaluate criticism or flattery simply avoid critical
people, and surround themselves with people who will only flatter them.
While this makes life more pleasant for them in the short run, they
miss out on a lot of useful information, and sooner or later they usually
bump their noses when” cloud nine” runs into a mountaintop.
This strategy is equally useful for people who would like to evaluate
compliments before responding to them. All that is needed is a small
change in the way the initial cues for step one are described. Instead
of saying, “Dissociate from any criticism,” you say, “Dissociate
from any comments about yourself or your behavior, whether complimentary
or critical.” The only other added change is an explicit instruction
to be sure to associate with any complimentary comments you evaluate
as true, so that you can fully enjoy them.
One very generative consequence of teaching this process is that people
change in the direction of having much more of an internal reference,
while at the same time becoming much more open to information from external
sources. This is the best of all possible worlds: to be open to all
sources of information, yet be able to make your own decisions based
on your own values, outcomes, and criteria.
This chapter is adapted from chapter 8 of Change Your Mind—and
Keep the Change.