The Clouding Technique

We all hate criticism. It stings, it scathes. It hurts. It comes our way at least once a day. We can deal with it emotionally, escalate it and risk fraying a relationship. The alternative is to handle it assertively. The Clouding Criticism Technique defangs fighting words.

To "cloud" the criticism is to diffuse it's potential for all out verbal war. The criticism is taken, absorbed, and rendered impotent. Rolling with the punches in this manner yields more results than countering with outright denial.

To cloud the criticism takes six steps:

• From the very beginning, focus on the content of the criticism , not the behavior of the critic. Listen emotionlessly. Yielding to emotion leaves you vulnerable to further criticism. Anger and fury attract further criticism as blood lures sharks.

• Calmly let the opponent talk till satisfied. Allow him to vent his ire into the stream of criticism. Do not interrupt. Be stone-cold silent. This allows him to assuage his fury and gives you the time to assemble a well crafted rebuttal, if need be. Allowing the opponent to lash out unhindered drains him emotionally, leaving him open to a well planned counter-attack.

• Eliminate all embers. To further decreases his emotional turmoil and kill the fire, ask if there is anything else they might want to add.

• Acknowledge having heard it. State "I understand that you are concerned about..." This negates the danger of letting the criticism looming indefinitely in everyone's mind.

• Cloud the Statements. Take the criticism and AGREE with it partially or in principle. This is a very effective method to derail any follow up attacks meant to reinforce angry words. By rolling with the punches instead of countering, you foster a friendlier environment. Agree with some truth in the criticism. Here's the technique:

Clouding the Criticism by Agreeing Partially entails taking his criticism and agreeing with some parts of it. This is effective when being criticized with words that involve sweeping adjectives like "always, never, and forever. Through partial agreement, the attacker's fury diminishes and this leads to more open discussion.

For example:

Criticism: You're always out of town. You never see your friends anymore.

Reply: I agree. I have little time for my friends these days. (agreeing partially)

Clouding the Criticism by Agreeing in Principle, entails fully agreeing with the principle of the criticism but not with the accusation leveraged against you. You admit that the principle is valid, but you nimbly sidestep blame. Agreeing in Principle lessens conflict because the critic gets confused with the quick acceptance of his point. He is thrown off balance and is unsure how to continue. Before he can think of a reply, you can work to defuse further conflict.

Criticism: You're always out of town. You never see your friends anymore.

Reply: I agree. Distance takes away much time for friends. (you agree that out of town trips minimizes time with friends; however you don't accept fault.)

• Finally, after clouding the criticism, ask what would make things better. Tell him "What would make this situation better for both of us?" Listen to the reply and give your own input. The last step snuffs all residual negativity and focuses the situation of problem solving. If outright lies pepper the criticism use a secret technique. The technique of Presuming Innocence parries the criticism while allowing the critic to save face.

The Technique:

Rapport cannot be built by pointing out errors in the logic of the criticism leveraged against you. Allow your prospects to save face by asking questions until you lose imagination or control. Presuming Innocence calls for incessant interrogation of the opponent on the reason, motive, factual basis, etc. for his accusation. Say, for instance, "How does that relate to the . . ." (then state the apparently conflicting information). Sometimes, you might find you were wrong, and you "save face." Or, by continued non threatening questions, you can gently corner the other person into self-correcting.

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