Does your child bolt when you walk into the room? What about your spouse, do they enjoy being around you? What if I were to tell you that you could improve your relationships by changing the way you talk to the people you love? Simply changing the way that you phrase a concern and your tone of voice can take your relationship from resentful to respectful.
Criticism vs. Complaints.
Relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman, describes criticism as attacking a person’s character. Criticism is so toxic in relationships that it actually is one of his number one predictors of divorce. Life comes with stress and struggles, so there’s always going to be times where you need to bring up a grievance, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.
Unlike criticism, complaints address problems without focusing on the virtue of the offender. We don’t want to get caught up in constantly complaining but let’s talk about how to bring up problems in a way that invites solutions and fosters healthy relationships.
Let’s look at a few situations and examine the difference.
Let’s say your spouse tends to make decisions without your input. In this instance, instead of telling your spouse, “You rarely consider my opinion” or “You don’t care about me, you always make decisions without me.” You could try “I sometimes feel like my opinion gets overlooked, what do you think we can do to make sure both our needs are getting met?” Feel the difference?
Let’s apply the same standard to our child whose backpack we keep tripping over. “Every day you come inside and drop your backpack in the entry, you’re getting lazy and I’m not your maid!” Instead try, “It’s not working for me to have your backpack sitting in the entry way, what do you think we can do to make sure that gets put away when you come home?”. We can go from hurting our loved ones to coming up with solutions simply by changing our phrasing.
Remember, people are more important than problems.
Three Simple Steps.
Next time you have a concern you need to bring up with your loved ones, follow these three steps:
- Start with an I-Statement. That means addressing how you are being affected or how you are feeling.
- Avoid attacking the person’s character or making general statements about what they may be feeling or thinking. Try to see the situation from their perspective.
- Invite the person to come up with ideas of how you can make things work for both parties.
It’s not always about what you say, sometimes it’s more about how you say it.
Imagine having someone in your life that’s always pointing out what you do wrong and why it makes you a bad person. Would you want to be around them? Would you want to continue the friendship? We can deepen connections with the people that we love by sharing concerns in a way that invites solution and understanding instead of judgment and contention.
In summary, when you are feeling stress and anger start to enter your heart, remember that irritation is an invitation to see things through the other person’s perspective. When we strive for understanding and compassion, then we are in a much better place to control our temper, tongue and tone.
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