June 23, 2024
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Verbal Assertiveness, Part Three: Accepting Criticism Using the Negative Assertion Skill

Thus far, we’ve explored how to become more persistent and less affected by pointless, manipulative criticism. But how do we handle criticism that is warranted?

Shlomo HaMelech in Mishlei 24:16 teaches us: “Seven times the righteous man falls and gets up,” וקם צדיק יפול שבע כי. This writer had heard the quote a few times before finally understanding it at a class by Rabbi Stephen Baars of Bliss Seminars. The first thing we are being taught is that falling down is a guaranteed aspect of living. We will make mistakes because the Almighty has decreed it. We need not look further than the Chumash to appreciate and learn from the mistakes of our great leaders.

Yehudah, from whom kings emerge, admits to two mistakes regardless of the personal ramifications. With Tamar, he publicly admits his responsibility, subjecting himself to public humiliation. Later with the Egyptian viceroy, he jumps forward to physically protect Binyamin and he atones for his earlier mistake of not sufficiently protecting Yosef. This is true kingship, malchut—taking responsibility and atoning.

The second thing to note is that by virtue of getting up seven times, one earns the title of tzaddik, a righteous man. Why? Because falling down is not the issue, but staying down is. We have been conditioned to believe that making mistakes is terrible, that we are a failure and should feel guilty.

These lies keep us down. The guilt and anxiety impair our ability to think, solve problems and act. To effectively cope with warranted criticism, we can use the Negative Assertion skill, where we assertively accept anything “negative” or imperfect about ourselves. Let us demonstrate the three skills we’ve learned so far—Negative Assertion, Fogging and Broken Record—in a dialogue:

HUSBAND: You didn’t have my suit properly dry-cleaned.

WIFE: You may be right. Let me see… (FOGGING by agreeing with probability/odds)

HUSBAND: You see, you didn’t show them the two stains, one here on the sleeve and the other on the leg.

WIFE: It looks like either I messed up or the cleaners did. I don’t remember if I showed them the stains. (NEGATIVE ASSERTION)

HUSBAND: What am I supposed to do now? I wanted to wear this suit!

WIFE: I don’t know. What do you want to do?

HUSBAND: I want you to fix your careless mistake and get it cleaned properly this time.

WIFE: Perhaps it was my mistake. I’m willing to return to the cleaners and ask them to fix it. (NEGATIVE ASSERTION)

HUSBAND: Make sure you don’t forget and show them both stains.

WIFE: I do sometimes forget things. How about you put a piece of blue tape wherever there is a stain? (NEGATIVE ASSERTION)

HUSBAND: Why should I have to spend time fixing your mistake?

WIFE: You are right, I made a mistake. Sometimes I forget things and since this is so important to you, maybe you could put a piece of blue tape by the stain? (FOGGING, NEGATIVE ASSERTION, BROKEN RECORD)

HUSBAND: I don’t want to do that. You should be more careful.

WIFE: I understand why you wouldn’t want to. You are right, I could be more careful. Since it is important to you to have a stain-free suit, could you please put a piece of blue tape near stains? (FOGGING, NEGATIVE ASSERTION, BROKEN RECORD)

HUSBAND: You mean you expect me to do this moving forward? That’s outrageous.

WIFE: I can understand how you feel. Sometimes I forget things and I may forget again in the future. Would you prefer to always have a stain-free suit or sometimes have a stain-free suit? (NEGATIVE

ASSERTION, BROKEN RECORD)

HUSBAND: Are you saying that you are refusing to take responsibility for your mistake and be more careful in the future? Really?

WIFE: I accept that I made a mistake and I am happy to fix it by returning it to the cleaners. Even when I try very hard to be careful, I sometimes forget things. Since it is so important to you to have a stain free suit, perhaps you want to put blue tape wherever there is a stain? (NEGATIVE ASSERTION, BROKEN RECORD)

HUSBAND: I don’t want to.

WIFE: I understand how you feel. Would you rather have a stain-free suit always or just sometimes? (BROKEN RECORD)

HUSBAND: I want you to put the blue tape where the stains are.

WIFE: I can understand why you would want me to do it. Since I sometimes forget things, or I may not know or remember where the stains are, can you please put blue tape near the stains? I can put a roll of blue tape near the dry-cleaning bin. Then you can just cut a piece and place it where you know there is a stain. (NEGATIVE ASSERTION, BROKEN RECORD)

HUSBAND: OK, fine!

WIFE: Great, here is the blue tape. And I’ll take it back to the cleaners right away.

In this conversation, the wife doesn’t break down, bend over backwards, or counter-criticize. She accepts that she is human/imperfect and that she sometimes forgets. Since the stain is more important to her husband, she decides that he can take more responsibility for ensuring a stain-free suit while she continues to drop off the family’s dry cleaning.

The wife demonstrates several assertive beliefs:

1. She decides what to think about her thoughts, feelings and actions.

2. She doesn’t offer a reason or excuse for her behavior.

3. She accepts that she made a mistake and takes responsibility for returning to the cleaners.

4. She decides what her responsibilities are and decides whether to find solutions to other people’s problems. She commits to returning to the dry cleaners but decides that the stains are her husband’s problem and he can choose to solve them with blue tape.

5. She accepts that she doesn’t know everything and can’t read minds when she responds with, “I don’t know.”

6. She changes her mind after thoughtful consideration. Up until now, she took responsibility for stain removal but now she changes her mind about this commitment and decides to ask her husband to take action towards his desired outcome.

We can all do this—it is within our reach. This Elul, let us accept our shortcomings, atone for our mistakes and usher in an era of malchut. To inspire us, here is a story of modern-day malchut from the biography of Rav Noach Weinberg, zt’l, by Yonoson Rosenblum:

During the time that Aryeh Leib Nivin served as Rav Noach’s attendant, an issue arose about a certain initiative in Los Angeles. Rav Noach and Aryeh Leib disagreed sharply about how to handle the matter. A few days later, Rav Noach told him, “I want to give you a big hug. You disagreed with me and because you did, I looked into the matter further, and you were right. Don’t ever stop disagreeing with me.

May Hashem bless you to use these skills to raise yourself and others up and to bring more of His Divine Presence into our world.


Zita Weinstein resides in New Jersey with her husband and kids. She is passionate about education and spiritual growth. Additional details on these assertive skills and ideas can be found in two books, “Rav Noach Weinberg: Torah Revolutionary” by Yonoson Rosenblum and “When I Say No, I Feel Guilty” by Manuel J. Smith, PhD; and Rabbi Stephen Baars’ website, www.getbliss.com.

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