Constructive Critcism – How not to respond

Shoveling Shit

Me at 15 shoveling shit out of the goat pen.

When I’m not public speaking I work for a non-profit whose mission is to help people with disabilities (PWDs) become contributing members of society. I organize employment events that connect job seekers with disabilities with receptive employers. Why is this necessary because PWDs have twice the unemployment rate as the able-bodied population. If you don’t have a disability that’s you.

One of the events I run is competitive. There are only twenty spots and a woman who did not make the cut the first time around submitted her resume for another try. The resume she submitted did not contain the previous edits I had made and it still had typos and errors. Her initial e-mail asking to be reconsidered accused me of telling her she should look for rote work. And then I responded to several other e-mails about resume feedback the address of the office (which she could have looked up online) and a couple of other things. After all this she decided she didn’t want to participate.

I told her I thought this was a good choice and provided what I thought was constructive critcism, about what I felt was unprofessionalism, lack of effort and the vibe or impression that I was getting was that she wasn’t that interested in being employed.

Her response: “Okay so you think I am unprofessional…funny that you should say that since I was thinking the same about you! But as I have lost all respect for you…I will tell you that you are not good at your job and are a very unpleasant person.” Later in the e-mail she accused me of being an emotional vampire. Does this mean that I get to look young forever?

My response thank you for feedback and some additional feedback on her behavior which I felt was confirmation of my assessment and I invited her to a self-empowerment workshop.

Her response: “Hi Tiana…thank you for your most recent email….I had not planned on reading any more of your emails but felt compelled to do so. In the spirit of good will and interest of giving you positive and constructive feedback-which you attempted to do for me:

I have talked this over with several individuals, including my caseworkers at other organizations that are assisting me in my job search and I have come to this conclusion:

I am concerned that you may have a Personality Disorder that causes you to be supportive and verbally abusive in almost the same breath. Or as I said unkindly “an emotional vampire’ that was uncalled for and non productive and I apologize profusely. I am sorry Tiana.” The e-mail went on for about five paragraphs that made excuses for her behavior, blamed her disability etc.

I thought of several sarcastic responses such as:

“Thank you I’ll let my psychiatrist know about your diagnosis.”

“Thank you would you like my mother’s e-mail address so you can rant at her for raising a child with a personality disorder?”

“I didn’t know you were a psychiatrist, if I had you probably would have been easier to place.”

“I once had a boss tell me that the negative things we see in other people are usually a reflection of what we don’t like about ourselves. Would you like the name of my psychiatrist?”

Instead I didn’t respond. This is how I try to deal with “constructive” critcism. I’m not always successful.

First I evaluate it. Who is it coming from? Do I respect them? Is their opinion important to me? Is it true? Now self-evaluation is difficult, but in my case I have been to several psychiatrists and never been diagnosed with a personality disorder.

If it’s not true – I let it go.

If it is true I have a decision to make: Is this something about myself that I want to change?

If I want to change it I start working on it. If I don’t want to change it I let it go.

There is no sense in me trying to continue a conversation with this person, she isn’t in a position to hear anything I have to say. She is in a blame mode, something that is very common with people in general, including PWDs. It’s more easy and less painful to blame me than to accept responsibility for her actions. Do I have any fault in this, probably. I have expectations of my fellow PWDs, high expectations.

The biggest red flag for me in this entire conversation was her discussions with numerous other individuals and the only question I have about that is “Were they individuals with disabilties?” Often times able-bodied people let things go because they feel that an individual with a disability has been through so much or had a difficult life. That’s not helpful. PWDs like everyone else need and deserve to hear the truth, particularly when it comes to employment.

Letting things go because someone has a disability or enabling or justifying bad behavior is a disservice to everyone.

Everyone has had to deal with difficult situations, no one gets through life unscathed. My life isn’t any worse than yours because I have a disability, just like your life isn’t any better than mine because you don’t.

No one likes constructive critcism, no likes self-evaluation, but there is only one way to respond. Thank you. And move on. From time to time we all have to shovel shit.

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