Would you like a bit less yelling in the barn? University of California-Davis ag labor management expert Gregorio Billikopf has a suggestion: Teach your crew (and yourself) how to take criticism without becoming defensive.

The trick is to hear the unmet need that underlies the criticism.

“Steven Covey taught, ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood,’” Billikopf writes. “People are seldom receptive to hearing our needs until we have heard theirs first. To be a truly effective communicator requires both being perceptive of others’ needs as well as communicating our own.”

This approach, which was pioneered by Marshall Rosenberg, is not a gimmick, he adds. It requires a thorough understanding of how to provide such responses effectively and empathetically — as well as knowing what approaches to avoid.

“For instance, we would do well not to put ourselves as the direct object of another person’s feelings and needs,” Billikopf notes. “Thus, we might avoid saying things like ‘you’re hurt because I…’ or ‘you need me to….’ Precise words, mindfulness, and cautious, respectful delivery are prerequisites to effectively incorporating Rosenberg’s approach to receiving empathically.”

Another great way to communicate needs without immediately arising defensiveness in others is to remember to use the “inverse I” approach, he adds. This concept, first developed by Thomas Gordon, directs us to say “I feel…” rather than “you make me feel…” and has the added bonus of concentrating on the matter at hand rather than the personalities of those involved in the matter.

Gregorio Billikopf is the author of Party-Directed Mediation, and may be reached at gebillikopf@ucdavis.edu or 209-525-6800.