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Responding to Criticism – Steve Andreas

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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.

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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 information.

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 it.

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. (OK.)

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 him?

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 the person!

That’s a new one, huh? Instead of punching him out.

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. Never!

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! (laughter)

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 there.

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. (laughter)

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 that.

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 dissociate¬

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 to you.

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, right?

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.

Follow—up Interview

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 for me,”

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 response.”

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 are:

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.
  • 7. Repetition.
  • 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 head?

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 well,” or—

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, isn’t it?

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.

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