How to reframe a Critic
With critics, the underlying purpose is to evaluate, yet they generally do have positive intentions at some level. For you to gain control of the conversation and restore a positive direction you must recover their underlying need so that there is something you can work with. The key is to turn WHY something won’t work, into HOW something can work. This is what we call reframing.
“You can transform a critic’s problem into positive outcomes by turning the why into a how.”
When we are motivated about something we want, we are driven to move toward a positive or away from something negative, or both. For example, “I want to experience the freedom and happiness that sufficient income will bring me.” This is a far better move-towards motivator than, “I don’t want to be poor.” Why? Positive focus drives us towards a specific imagined successful outcome helping to replace the negative. Negative inner self-talk frames only deepen our attention on them, making the problem worse. Without a positive goal, this leaves nothing to move towards to help change or replace them. There is no go-to vision of success. We are essentially aimless.
“The judgmental nature of a critic tends to stop the show.”
Within a conversation, the judgmental nature of a critic tends to stop the show. A critic’s approach stops forward motion and is usually about why something won’t work, focusing on the negative side of the problem rather than the how as a solution. Critics tend to focus on what they don’t want and this leaves us with little to work with in terms of how to resolve their concern in order to move forward or lighten the atmosphere. Primarily, critics simply fail to verbalize their deeper concern, nor its solution frame. Once a critic’s unspoken concern is clarified and rephrased, you take control of the conversation.
“Once a critic’s concern is clarified and rephrased, you take control of the conversation.”
The 4 step process looks like this;
- What is the criticism or objection, the greater unspoken concern or question that needs solving?
- What is the value or positive intention behind that criticism; what is it they are attempting to achieve or preserve through criticism?
- Given this deeper intention, what is the HOW question that needs to be asked to resolve it; what is the positive rephrasing that points to their true concern.
- Get their agreement that your restatement aligns with their need.
You are trying to rephrase their deeper concern with a phrase that points towards resolution. First, ask yourself what their underlying positive intention might be.
For example, if they say, “Your idea is too hard to do.” The reframed intention you mirror back might sound like, “How can we make this more simple and easier to complete? Or their negative comment, “You’re just dreaming!” might be reframed as, “How can we make the steps of this plan more solid and executable?”
If you have trouble reframing to a positive solution-oriented intention then straight up just ask them, “What positive value or purpose are you attempting to achieve or preserve through your criticism?” Then positively rephrase your how statement until you get their agreement. You want to be positioned on their side in order to avoid their taking yet another negative move-away-from stance. You are also reframing their need to move towards something that furthers the conversation, rather than a show-stopping away from.
By asking for their agreement that you understand their deeper concern, you give them the choice and power to align with you rather than against you. Your response to, “That will never work,” might become, “So what I am hearing is that you need a more solid understanding of how we can accomplish this so we can make it easier to execute? Is this correct? Keep rephrasing until they say, “Yes.” Starting this sentence with, “What I am hearing is…” gives them the opportunity to correct your reframe and signals that you care enough to listen to their real concern.
“By asking for their agreement that you understand their deeper concern, you give them the choice and power to align with you rather than against you.”
One hint for step number three for rephrasing is to transform their key negative show-stopping words, such as, “too expensive” into, “more affordable,” as in “How can we make this more affordable?” Or you might turn, “It’s broken,” into, “It’s a work in progress.” Find words of possibility leaving the door open, allowing for continued course correction, rather than words of impossibility or improbability. Why not becomes how can. Can’t becomes could, won’t becomes will, never becomes might.
You can now unclog the conversation and take control. With this four step process we are looking for:
- The deeper context of the critic’s concern, aligning with a higher or deeper perspective, purpose or reason.
- Turning the ‘Why not’ into a ‘How can’.
- Finding agreement with understanding their concern.
“The one who holds the frame controls the conversation!”
This concept is taken from the book “Coach to Awakener” by Robert Dilts.