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  • Ricka Robb Kohnstamm

How wide is your "no criticism" zone?

Conflict and criticism are everywhere in my world right now.

I feel it in organizations that are striving for change, yet struggle with rewriting their leadership rule books. "You're not an aware enough leader and it is your fault that we aren't doing better!"

I feel it in families who are struggling to work through complex issues that have upended their sense of normalcy. "You're not showing up the way I need you to in our family, it's your fault that we are in this mess."

And I feel it with individuals who are growing and shifting and are not yet settled in their new normal. "I have no willpower, no wonder I can't ever seem to get it right."

It is so easy to get stuck in this go-to, destructive rut. Our brains strengthen their neural connections around right/wrong, good/bad, in/out. And last time I checked, harsh, defensive criticism wasn't helpful in creating spaciousness or moving anything forward.

Instead, consider a strength-based approach - call a time out on conflict, create drama free space, widen your "no criticism" zone.

Take a deep breath and consider these tools...

Notice the urge to criticize, before it comes out of your mouth, and call it for what it is. Pushing responsibility to "the other" by criticizing (whether it be the boss, the Board chair, the sibling, the teacher, the partner, the young child, the politician, the global leader, etc.,) is a strategy to offload our own emotional discomfort. Doesn't matter whether we are sure we have a good point, whether we feel justified in our belief, whether we've said it once or a million times. It is not actually about the other person, it is about our own discomfort with the situation. Own it.

Invite others into a "no criticism" zone with you, for a prescribed amount of time. And then gradually widen it. Give yourself time to come up from under water, to allow your thoughts to soften and expand, to lean towards appreciation, rather than criticism. Create a "drama free" weekend where conversations about the conflict are off limits. Sit in Circle together, once every other week for eight sessions as a workgroup or family and dream forward. Give yourself time to shift your thinking while refraining from self-criticism for one week - and share that commitment with your partner.

Use your "no criticism" zone to move into higher mind.

  • "I am so afraid that I won't have a place in this group anymore, nothing feels normal, everything has changed and I am losing my balance."

  • "I am terrified that you don't really see me, as I thought you did. I've counted on the fact that you get me and now I feel like I am out to sea."

  • "I am frustrated that you and I are not on the same page about the importance of anti-racist activism. I feel ill when I realize how hard change is going to be."

  • "I am angry with myself and embarrassed for not controlling my eating/drinking/temper/f(ill-in-the-blank). I know I lash out at others, but I am really angry at myself."

Creating space for balance, for noticing what is working, for spaciousness within relationship is surprisingly difficult, primarily because it not our habit.

Try it and exhale.

Actions, aligned with values, support optimal health.


Hello, I'm Ricka.

Ricka Kohnstamm Executive & Physician Coach Profile Photo

I'm a Nationally Board Certified (NBC-HWC) Integrative Health and Wellbeing Coach. I specialize in working with physician leaders, corporate leaders, non-profit executives and their families to navigate complex work and personal issues so they can strengthen their relationships, heal, and feel hopeful about the future again. 



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