Nancy Roman

Role Model

After I so thoroughly and lovingly complimented myself last week, I think it is only fair to acknowledge that I just perhaps – very slightly – might have a few shortcomings.

For example:

How I React To Criticism:

Which is:

Not Well.

Although I recognize that I have a few faults – I do not want ANYONE to actually point out ANY OF THEM.

I am crazy-defensive (or just plain crazy). I am full of faults in my own mind, but I’d better be perfect in yours. (Right, Hubby?)

It’s not that I won’t eventually – at some much later date – in a moment of quiet reflection – consider the possibility that I might have a tiny bit of room for improvement. And maybe, also eventually, take some correction action.

But in the moment – and for many many moments afterwards – I feel just shitloads of anger, denial, and hurt.

Sometimes I can stay that way for a very long time. Years ago I had a boss scream at me in a big meeting: “WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!” And even if I had been wrong, wrong, wrong (which I was not, by the way), that approach to criticism will never get to the quiet reflection stage.

Although I will admit that even the gentlest of constructive criticism (“You might want to consider this little idea the next time you have a project like this…”) is not exactly welcome either.

Mostly I think every human being is as thin-skinned as I am.

But not quite everyone.

Twenty years ago, I witnessed such an accepting and undefensive reaction to criticism, it has stuck with me all these years. It’s a standard of openness that I will never achieve. But still a worthy goal.

It was 1994 (and I am sure because I worked in the television industry, and had a TV in my office, and I remember watching Jackie Kennedy’s funeral). My boss at the time was a super-smart rather grumpy guy who I really liked. He tended to shoot the breeze for a good portion of the day, and then work in tremendous bursts of energy just before a deadline. This style suited me perfectly.

(Not to mention that he liked the same toppings on his pizza as I did.)

We both reported to and were at the mercy of the WRONG WRONG WRONG boss. She was also super-smart, but major stressed out, and the type of manager who got angry before she got facts. She had an advanced degree in Jumping To Conclusions. In a high-pressure job in a male-dominated industry (to try to be fair) she was an ethical and committed executive who was apoplectic more often than encouraging.  She’d turn purple to the roots of her hair. If I walked into her office and the part in her hair was still purple from the last meeting, I usually excused myself and re-scheduled.

This particular day in 1994, it was my boss, Eric, on the receiving end of the fury.

I can’t even remember the topic. But Eric got his ass handed to him – with a new asshole torn in that which was handed to him – for something not even remotely his fault. In front of me.

Eventually we were released and crawled back to our own offices. But not for long. I immediately went to Eric’s office in my own furious reaction.

“That was so unfair!” I yelled. “You didn’t deserve that!  And she had no right to humiliate you in front of me!”

But Eric shook his head.

“It’s okay,” he said calmly.

“No, it’s not!” You didn’t deserve that!” I reiterated.

“Maybe not this time,'” he said. “But plenty of times, I do.”

And that was it. He got back to work. And sent me back to my office to vent my outrage that he didn’t share.

It was a wondrous thing.

I’ve always hoped that I someday I would display that level of maturity as an example to my own subordinates. Since I am now about one year from retirement, I don’t hold much hope for it.



The Financial Planning department at a company event in 1993. That’s my boss, Eric, on the far right and me next to him. (I feel the need to explain: Because it was a party, my young secretary [not pictured] decided to give me big hair.)









  1. “I am full of faults in my own mind, but I’d better be perfect in yours. (Right, Hubby?)” You too? It’s nice to know I’m in good company!


    • The person I take criticism from the WORST is my husband.


  2. Maybe you should stage it, just so you can say you did it!


    • Oh, I don’t have to stage it. I get criticized enough. I just can’t even pretend I take it well.


  3. Did you hear about that book The Confidence Code that explores how women and men approach work/career? Surprise! Studies show women go in with less confidence and greater sensitivity. That’s why I still wear the big hair. Natural armor.


    • I do think that most men have thicker skins. I think it takes a lot more to shatter their confidence. Because they tend to think “It’s them, not me.” I would like to acquire that ability to just think to myself, “What an asshole” and let it go.


  4. After years of self doubt, insecurity and lack of confidence which stemmed from childhood to failed relationships, I tend to get defensive when criticized. Not a good thing. It’s not as bad as it was, but it’s still lurking there. I tend to take myself away from the situation by a long walk with the dog. Always makes me feel better and things are in some form of perspective by the end of it.


    • I think it is just human nature to get defensive. It hurts to hear bad things about yourself.


  5. bella ellers

    Great post. I went to all female schools for 16 years and it helped a lit with confidence issues. There are even studies about thus. But I belueve that guys take the deluvery of irate criticism easier because they played team spirts and yelling was an integral and frequent part if each practice. And then there’s the military, yelkung starting at biit camp. Guessing you didn’t have either of those experiences, few women have.

    Give yourself a break. It’s not maturity you lack. A few friends have become adept at daily meditation and been able to get tougher skin. It mught wirk for you abd it might not. There’s also a short term therapy called EMDR that works to lessen the effects of past abuse, because what you are describing is a form of post traumatic disorder. But it might be easier to just dump abusive people and find nicer ones.
    We all deserve that.


    • I think you make a good point about boys being yelled at in team sports. And you are right on point about meditation. I just read “10% Happier” by Dan Harris, and I am giving it a try.


  6. I don’t think you are alone in this, in fact I know you are not. I absorb criticism as if it belongs to me, takes my hours sometimes days to figure out if I actually own it or not. It is why your previous post was so good, those personal affirmations are a wonderful shield against the unwarranted stuff.


    • We all definitely need to remind ourselves how wonderful we are – and on a regular basis.


  7. The only thing worse than being on the receiving end of a dressing down in front of everyone is watching it happen to someone else. You are embarrassed for them and for yourself. I will never understand why some people in authority feel the need to publicly humiliate someone who works for them. It makes for a very stressful work environment. It does, however, provide a bonding moment for the employees to despise their boss.


    • I hate being witness to someone else being humiliated. But you’re right. The insensitive ass doing the shouting is the one who ends up looking bad.


  8. Once, I found a book on my husband’s night stand. It was called, The Ten Most Common Character Flaws”. I blew up! “Did you buy that for me to read?” I asked. “Nope,” he said. “I bought it for me……….,so I could understand you.”

    Ha! I did actually read it and discovered I had 8 of the 10. 🙂


  9. I don’t suppose many of us takes criticism well but we can attempt to learn. What I cringe at is the public kind. That’s just cruel no matter how bad or wrong the ‘boss’ handing it out always looks.
    I understand constructive criticism but that’s hard as well.


  10. Christine

    I once had a bossed who loved to criticize underlings in public. The first few times I was the target or even one of the witnesses, I felt terrible. But then I realized that the old timers just ignored it. Since he did it to everyone, his behavior had lost its impact; in fact, people sometimes joked about it. But the boss never realized that it was only his image that suffered.


  11. Brilliant post. I have to say that I am one of those people who act like the criticism is fine, but then spend days, sleepless nights and hours beating myself up and over analysing. I can only hope I can handle things like that with a sense of dignity and calmness like your boss did.
    Thanks again for posting this. It was a very inspiring read 🙂


    • Thanks. Oh yeah, I understand replaying the conversation in my head a zillion times.


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