3.4 - Developing our Emotional Capacity - Cultivating our Capacity to Receive Critique

3.4 – Developing our Emotional Capacity – Cultivating our Capacity to Receive Critique (1 hour 15 minutes)

Materials needed: Meditation Reflection worksheet. Pens, pencils, crayons, and markers. Dental Hygiene Model of Anti-racism video by Jay Smooth.

Purpose of piece: To expand our capacity to listen and experience gratitude when receiving critical feedback.

Say to group: This exercise will begin with us thinking back to an uncomfortable moment when we were told we messed up or when we got critical feedback about something. We’re doing this because if we plan to engage with racial justice work, we are going to experience criticism. It is going to happen. The criticism may come in a form that we think is fair. Or, it might be given in a way that doesn’t feel right or makes a point with which we disagree.  The question is how we can ensure that we stay open to receive the critique. Today’s exercise will help us identify how to increase the capacity to listen and feel a sense of gratitude, even when receiving feedback that doesn’t resonate or is delivered in a way we dislike.

Facilitator’s Note: This activity asks participants to generate a memory that might not be that close to daily consciousness. During the brief guided meditation, pause between each question to allow for internal processing.

Say to Group: To get started, I invite you to take a few moments to get comfortable where you are sitting, perhaps allowing your arms and legs to relax into whatever is supporting you, the chair, the ground… You may want to close your eyes, or if it’s more comfortable, let your eyes lose focus as you gaze at a neutral spot in front of you.

I invite you to allow your mind to remember a time when you were criticized in a way that was difficult to handle. It could have been about anything. Maybe you made a mistake, or someone found fault with something you said or did. (Allow for a significant pause)

  • What did it feel like to experience the criticism?
  • Were you anxious, relieved, grateful, embarrassed, or ashamed?
  • Did you feel defensive?
  • Did you value the information being given? Or did you feel that it was inaccurate?
  • Was it delivered with care? Or did you feel mistreated?
  • What was the feeling in your body? Did you get tense? Did your face flush? Was it more of a freezing sensation? Did you feel it in your belly?
  • What went through your head?
  • How did you feel about the person making the critique? What were you thinking about that person?
  • How did you respond?

As you sit with this recollection for a moment, you may want to notice how your body is feeling. After taking a few deep breaths, we’ll open or refocus our eyes, and return to the group. (15 minutes)

Say to group: We’re now going to take about 10 minutes to more fully engage with that experience silently. You are being given a worksheet. In the box on the upper section you can use images, words, or symbols to represent either 1) how you saw that person in that moment, 2) how you experienced yourself, or 3) a representation of the emotion you felt. It’s completely up to you how you want to use that space. (10 minutes)

Underneath the box, complete the following sentences:

While receiving this critique,

  • I felt….
  • My sense of self was…
  • What I wanted more than anything was…
  • I thought the person delivering the critique was….
  • My feelings about the person were…
  • What I wanted to say was…

Say to group: To the degree that you are comfortable, share with a partner. (5 minutes)

Say to group: In order to help ourselves sustain a listening posture and access a sense of gratitude during moments when we’re receiving critical feedback, it helps to realize that in any given situation, we are bringing our own interpretation to the moment. We tell ourselves stories about what is happening. These stories may have some truth to them, and they may also stop us from recognizing other valuable information. They may be overly self-critical, and they may validate us in a way that stops us from appreciating others’ concerns. One way we can train ourselves to become less defensive, is to practice generating different kinds of stories about challenging moments.

Facilitator’s Note: Be prepared to offer an example of your own. For example, an important shift for me came when I realized that people offering me a critique were not trying to be mean or tell me I was worthless. Instead, they were taking their time and energy to connect with me and help me improve how I approached work in the community.

Take a few minutes to imagine how your experience might have changed if you had been telling yourself a different story about yourself, the person offering the critique, or about your knowledge base in general. Complete these new stories on the back side of the sheet, and feel free to generate a new image to go along with this updated story. (10 minutes)

Underneath the box, complete the following sentences:

  1. A different story about the situation is…
    1. I was given a critique because…
    2. The intention of the person delivering the critique was….
    3. My feelings about the person are…
    4. This story makes me feel…
    5. If I could do it again, I would want to say…
    6. I want more than anything…

Large group debrief: (15 minutes)

  1. When have you needed feedback from someone else in order to grow?
  2. What can help us stay in an “I want to know” listening mode as opposed to an “I already know” mode? (Refer to the bottom of the back side of the Meditation Reflection for a few ideas.)
  3. What can help us tell ourselves more useful stories?

Wrap Up: As we wrap up this exercise, we want to acknowledge that we’re not only concerned for ourselves. We also want to support others in generating the emotional capacity to pay attention to race. A very accessible way to talk about this issue with others is to use the dental hygiene paradigm of racial discourse, as described by Jay Smooth. Jay Smooth offers a useful TEDx talk that reminds us that we all live in an environment in which we are awash in racism every day. We need a regular practice that supports us to stay open to receiving the message that we’ve got racism in our teeth. Play video (12 minutes):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbdxeFcQtaU

Invite comments or thoughts after the video. (5 minutes)