Before You Criticize a Co-worker – Look in The Mirror

Whether it’s your employee, boss, co-worker or vendor; the next time you form a judgment about someone…hit the pause button. What we criticize in others says more about us than it does about them.

Your most exasperating relationships are a manifestation of your subconscious anxieties and self-doubts. What you see lacking in your employee; is a reflection of what you worry others will see lacking in you. The very thing you find irritating about your co-worker; is the thing you want to dispel in your own character and behavior. The next time you judge someone for not meeting your expectations; pause and consider: how is this really about me?

For example, if you’re frustrated an employee isn’t responding fast enough – chances are you worry others will think you’re not responsive. I once coached a director who described her vice president as a demanding, micro-manager. She was frequently frustrated by what she interpreted as needless nitpicking over every detail. She became stressed as her resentment over her boss’s feedback grew.

As we peeled back the onion, she realized she’s always been highly self-critical. When her boss gave her feedback on her work – it triggered her inner critic. Her self-doubts about her abilities were being confirmed (subconsciously). Her defenses went up. Without knowing it at a conscious level – she was responding as if she was under threat and she attacked the perceived attacker with disparaging thoughts. With this insight, she was able to look more objectively at how she was interpreting the situation. She realized her interpretation of her boss’s feedback had more to do with her than her boss. With new self-awareness she was able to appreciate her manager’s intentions and have an honest, respectful conversation about the aspects of her manager’s style she found de-motivating. The relationship became healthier.

Why does this happen? Your emotional brain is constantly scanning the environment for signs of danger to your ego and sense of self-worth. When emotionally threatened, you automatically form an instant opinion about someone or a situation. Your belief that your interpretation of people and events is the true interpretation - is a form of self-protection. All this happens automatically and without your awareness. I call this your auto-conscience™ .

This auto-conscience™ is deeply buried in the innate functions of the brain. This is especially true of the most successful managers and highest performers. Their drive and determination to succeed blocks them from noticing when they unconsciously and automatically project self-doubt onto others. “It’s not me, it’s you.”

As the saying goes, “physician, heal thyself.” You can use your capacity for emotional intelligence to bring what’s hidden into your awareness. Only when you understand yourself and your true motives can you genuinely and respectfully engage with others.


Improving your self-awareness if the first step in pushing the pause button on your auto-conscience™.

  1. Keep a journal. I call this, “taking the mental garbage out.” Minds are full of clutter, judgments, automatic mental habits and worries. Getting those thoughts out of your head and down on paper provides distance and objectivity from which to examine your opinions and perceptions. Ask yourself, “how true is what I just I wrote? How would someone else see this?” Journaling can be as simple as jotting down the emotions that come up during the day into your notebook, calendar or on a post-it note. Or, it can be a ritual to which you devote time at the beginning or end of the day. The key is to write (not type) with pen or pencil and paper. The kinesthetic act of physical writing activates areas of the brain that typing does not.

Assess your auto-conscience

2. As an emotional intelligence and Core Energy™ coach, I guide clients through a unique assessment that helps them look “inside,” finding the root of relationship challenges and limiting beliefs about themselves and others. This assessment takes something abstract, like your opinions and beliefs about yourself, others and the world around you; and turns it into something tangible—a metric that you can see and evaluate. Clients discover insights that help create choice in how they think, feel and engage with others.


3. Viktor Frankl said it. Stephen Covey said it. Cognitive behavioral therapists help people achieve it. Between stimulus and response there is a space. What happens in that space? You can be curious and ask yourself questions…why is this person irritating me? What does this say about me? About my leadership? Where’s this judgment coming from?


4. Take a breath in that space and consciously choose a better response. Emotions are mental habits. Those habits either help us or hurt us when it comes to leading ourselves and others. To slow yourself down – even in a heated meeting – roll your shoulders to release tension and sit back comfortably in your chair. Relax your arms and take a deep breath in on a four-count and exhale on a four count. Just a simple four-count of breath in and out will give you the pause you need and no one will even notice you’re doing it.

Take a Walk

5. Take a walk outside. When you’re frustrated, you become stressed. Stress sends cortisol through your system and causes your brain to physically contract. Options narrow, as you lose patience and focus. Getting up and moving helps dissipate the cortisol through your body. A vigorous walk sends oxygen to your brain, clearing your thinking. The sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors help change your perspective. A walk is meditation in motion!

Take a Class

6. “Unlock Your EQ Genius with EQ-i-2.0.” This 1 ½ hour virtual workshop is popular with busy managers and employees who want to raise their emotional awareness and find it hard to get away for a full-day workshop. Go to to view upcoming workshops and registration. Ten seats left for the June 21st session!

For more information on Core Energy™ leadership, emotional intelligence workshops, speaking engagements and coaching, please contact us at and

Susan ClarineComment