EQ Rule #3: Emotional Intelligence: Be a Diamond Cutter

By Justin Bariso, Principal, EQ Applied

Reprinted with Permission

Thomas Keller is an award winning chef and restaurateur. Over the years, he’s developed a reputation as one of the most skilled culinary artists in the world.

But in 2015 Pete Wells, the lead restaurant critic for the New York Times, made headlines when he published a harsh criticism of Keller’s New York eatery Per Se. Wells described his three dining experiences as “respectably dull at best to disappointingly flatfooted at worst,” using words like “random,” “flavorless,” “purposeless,” and “rubbery” to describe the dishes he sampled.

How would Keller, a noted perfectionist and honored chef, respond to being thoroughly bashed—by the same newspaper, incidentally, that named Per Se “the best restaurant in New York City” just four years earlier?

He apologized.

In a statement that is equal parts humble and inspiring, Keller accepted responsibility for Per Se’s poor performance and promised improvement.

“We pride ourselves on maintaining the highest standards, but we make mistakes along the way,” Keller admitted in a statement on his website.

“We are sorry we let you down.”

Keller then took action: After the critical review, he traveled to a number of restaurants he owned to meet with the staff of over a thousand. The only way to diminish the impact of the review, Keller said, would be one guest at a time.

Keller acknowledged in an interview several months later that he didn’t view Wells’s review as a personal attack.

“Maybe we were complacent,” he said. “I learned that, maybe, as a team we were a little bit too arrogant, our egos too exposed.”

In the world of fine dining, where top chefs are deified, Keller’s response was a breath of fresh air. At the same time, it revealed on a larger stage what many closer associates of Keller saw as a major strength of character: his ability to benefit from negative feedback.

The Lesson

What do you do when someone gives you critical feedback?

You know what I’m talking about. It comes in all different shapes and forms…but basically, it feels like someone is telling you: You’re wrong.

How do you react?

If you’re anything like me, you’ll literally feel yourself tense up. Your breathing may change. And, sometimes…

Your blood starts to boil.

None of this is pleasant, but it’s actually a good sign.

Think about it: The reason you and I get all worked up when someone gives us criticism is because we’re passionate.

Your work, your opinions, your way of thinking—they’re like your best friends.
And nobody messes with your friends.

But here’s the catch:

You need critical feedback.

So do I.

We all need criticism because none of us are perfect. We all have blind spots, and we all want to improve.

You might have heard me compare criticism to a freshly mined diamond. That rock may be ugly to the naked eye…but after the cutting and polishing process, its value becomes obvious.

Criticism is like that unpolished diamond: It’s ugly…at first. But most of the time, that ugliness is rooted in truth. And even if not, it can still make you better—by giving you a window into how others see you.

(And, guess what? If one person sees you that way, you can be sure there are tons of others who do, too.)

That’s why you need to become a diamond cutter.

You need to take the raw, unpolished diamond and turn it into something beautiful—by transforming that criticism into a learning experience.

But how can you benefit from critical feedback if your emotions are out of control?

Here’s where the one sentence comes in.

Whenever you receive negative feedback, and you’re tempted to say something you’re likely to regret, say this instead:

Thanks for expressing your thoughts…Please give me a day or so to process this and I’ll respond.

Here’s why this response is such a great example of emotional intelligence:

Your first emotion is your emotional reaction. It springs forth from the amygdala, the little almond-shaped part of your brain that jumps into action when you feel attacked.

But once enough time has passed, the amygdala calms down…and you start thinking again with the other, more rational parts of your brain.

Just giving yourself a day to process the feedback helps you to see it much differently.

(This is called self-management.)

Instead of seeing it as hurtful, you can now see it as helpful. (This is called reframing.)

But don’t forget about the first part of the sentence: “Thanks for expressing your thoughts.” This little statement also goes a long way, because it expresses appreciation to the person who gave you the critical feedback.

In each case, it produces a more positive reaction with the other person. (This is called relationship management.)

So…the next time you get critical feedback, take a step back, and be a diamond cutter.
You’ll transform that feedback into something valuable—and that’ll make you better at…

Just about everything.

Try This

This week, when someone gives you critical (negative feedback), say something like this:

Thanks for expressing your thoughts…Please give me a day or so to process this and I’ll respond.

Then, focus on answering two questions:

  • Putting my personal feelings aside, what can I learn from this alternate perspective?
  • How can I use this feedback to help me improve?

Finally, use your answers to help you:

  • Refine and improve your ideas;
  • Craft your message in a way that reaches a more diverse audience;
  • Prepare yourself for similar criticism in the future;
  • Change and adapt when appropriate.

In Summary
When you learn how to “cut diamonds,” you’ll:

  • completely transform the way you view criticism
  • give yourself a window into the way others perceive you
  • get better at everything you do

Use this handy worksheet to explore EQ Rule #3: Emotional Intelligence: Be a Diamond Cutter


About the Author
Justin Bariso, Principal, EQ Applied

The founder of EQ Applied, Justin Bariso helps organizations and individuals develop their emotional intelligence. His thoughts on leadership and EQ draw over a million readers a month, and LinkedIn named him a “Top Voice” in the field of management and workplace culture three years in a row. His book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, shares fascinating research, modern examples, and personal stories that illustrate how emotional intelligence works in the real world. Email: [email protected]


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Disclaimer: This article is written for educational purposes only. Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure its accuracy and completeness. It is the responsibility of the reader to refer to the definitions, descriptions, conventions, and guidelines specific to each coding classification, as well as relevant laws and regulations when selecting and reporting medical codes.

About the Author

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