Pecked to Death By Ducks

Ever been in a situation where it seems like minor criticisms are all you hear? Sure, there are things you could improve, you know that . . . but a constant peck, peck, peck of negative feedback sure doesn't motivate you to change! One of my mentors called this gradual chipping away at one's self esteem, "being pecked to death by ducks."

How to deal with it? There are ducks outside my window as I write . . . and I know that one sure way to make them go away, is to stop feeding them. Ducks need to eat a lot, and eat often, to keep going. If they can't get food from you, they'll try someplace else.

So . . . how can you make this work for your brand of "ducks"? What about figuring out what there is about you that's FEEDING them? For example, are you reacting to their pecks? (Psychologists tell us that some people use a negative approach to get the attention they crave.)

Are you working harder in response to their criticism? (When you do this, you are exhausting yourself and adding chocolate sauce to their dessert! The pecking won't end, I guarantee it.) I believe we feed our ducks when we take words of criticism home and brood. Most of us are programmed to take criticism much more seriously than we do praise, and many of us make almost a career out of taking criticism home to chew over . . . and over . . . and again.

When Duck A criticizes me for DOING x, I have a choice. Take it home and make it last . . . or look the criticism in the face. If it's fair and valid, I may decide to stop x-ing (it's my choice). In fact, Duck A may have done me a good turn -- and one way to keep this in mind is to say (over and over if necessary), "It's about what I DO, it's not who I BE."

A WORD ABOUT SYSTEMIC DUCK FEEDERS: Some organizations and groups encourage anonymous feedback, in the mistaken belief that this provides a safe environment for honest communication. WRONG! Anonymous feedback promotes dysfunctional systems . . . and dysfunctional systems are essentially "duck food silos." (I put a spin on an old mantra, "If you can't say it to his/her face, don't say it at all." Of course, sometimes we need help -- a mentor, an advocate, a companion, a safe structure. But whatever it takes, in healthy systems, constructive, behavior-focused criticism comes with a name attached, and if at all possible, is given face-to- face.)

Finally: HOW NOT TO BE A DUCK: Before YOU criticize, think clearly. Figure out what is really bugging you. And then speak directly to the person with whom you have a problem. Use 'I' statements (a skill unknown to ducks, as far as I know). Rehearse ahead of time to be sure you're focused on behavior (Do-ing), not Be-ing. A good rule is to ask yourself, "How would this sound if she (or he) were talking to ME?"

© Maureen Killoran, 2005

Maureen Killoran, MA, DMin, is a Life Coach with a passion for helping people connect their strengths with their vision. Maureen offers dynamic individual and group coaching, work team empowerment training, teleclasses, and a free monthly e-zine, "Seeds of Change." Watch for Maureen's forthcoming e-workbook, Spirit Tickling -- a selection of her absolutely best articles, with questions to lead you further on your path of personal growth. http://www.spiritquestcoaching.com

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