Experience the transformative effects of empathy and genuine understanding in your interactions. Learn to steer clear of criticism, using instead, constructive feedback to foster healthier and more engaging conversations.
If you have read my most recent blog post, ‘Under Attack: How to deal with criticism without losing your cool,’ you will have, hopefully, been taking some time to reflect on the process of receiving criticism. This time ‘round, we’re flipping it on its head and looking at how to communicate without criticising. If this is something that interests you, high five! You’re in the right place.
You may have heard of the best-selling book by Dale Carnegie, “How To Win Friends and Influence People”. (Otherwise, go check it out, it’s one of my favourite books). Taken in the wrong context, “how to influence people” sounds a bit manipulative.
Is there a magic secret that allows you to control and influence those around you? Well, if you’ve read the book, you’ll know that the ‘big secret’ is really just about being positive and genuine. Almost 100 years ago, Dale Carnegie knew that until you’re sincere in your actions and communications, you’re unlikely to succeed both personally and professionally, and the same holds true today.
It has long been accepted that criticism is one of the least effective forms of communication when it comes to fostering change and growth in individuals.
When faced with criticism, people often become defensive, shutting down emotionally and mentally and resisting any potential learning or improvement.
This natural tendency to resist negative feedback is rooted in our desire to protect ourselves and maintain a positive self-image. Unfortunately, instead of positivity, it often leads to toxicity both in yourself and in your interactions with others.
If you enjoy a toxic environment that fosters negativity, resentment and defensiveness that blocks you from growth, understanding and connection, then sorry, but you’re in the wrong place. I’m here to help you address these negative behaviours and instead cultivate positive alternatives.
At this point, you might wonder, “Is it even possible to voice disagreements or handle conflicts without resorting to criticism or arguments?” The answer is, undoubtedly, yes!
Research has shown that the most effective way to promote change and growth in individuals is through constructive feedback, which focuses on strengths and offers specific suggestions for improvement. Truth is crucial, but it can be conveyed gently. Constructive feedback, when delivered with kindness and empathy, helps to create an environment where people feel valued and supported, making them more receptive to new ideas and suggestions.
“So?” I hear you asking, “What can I do instead of criticising?” Ah, the million-dollar question! Let’s dive into the pool of positivity, shall we? Here are some strategies that can help you communicate more effectively while keeping the snark at bay
In a world where your words can make or break someone’s day, it’s crucial to be mindful of how you communicate with others. It comes back to the ‘3 R’s’ we mentioned in my previous blog post ‘Under Attack, How to deal with criticism without losing your cool’: To remind you, the ‘3 R’s’ are Reflect, Reframe, and Reveal.
This time instead of introspection, let’s use the 3 R’s to improve your communication with others. The steps are as follows:
1. Encourage Reflection: Invite the other person to take a step back and assess their own actions, language, or attitudes. This could involve asking open-ended questions that prompt self-reflection, such as “What led you to respond that way?” or “How do you feel about what happened?”
The goal is to create a safe space for them to explore their emotions and actions without fear of judgement. Remember, instead of pointing out flaws or making the other person feel defensive, you’re trying to encourage growth and better understanding.
2. Suggest Reframing: Once the individual has reflected on their behaviour, guide them towards reframing any negative perspectives. For instance, if they still see their actions as entirely justified, gently suggest alternative viewpoints or ask how they could view the situation in a different light. You might ask, “Was there a better course of action you could have taken” or “How might things look from an outside perspective?”.
3. Guide the Reveal: Now that we’ve reflected and reframed, it’s time for revelation – a shared understanding and actionable steps forward. This could manifest as a heartfelt conversation or, perhaps, a commitment to modify certain actions. Guide this process with questions like “How do you envision future situations like these?” or “What changes might be beneficial based on our discussion?”
Another method is to adopt the principle of “non-violent communication,” pioneered by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg. This four-step process encourages you to express your needs honestly and empathetically without blaming or criticising others. The steps include observing the situation without judgement, expressing feelings, identifying needs, and making requests.
Let’s say your friend always turns up late to your meetings. Instead of saying, “You’re so irresponsible! You never respect my time!” (Ouch! Harsh, right?), try the non-violent communication approach:
“I’ve noticed that you often arrive late when we meet up (that’s the observation part). It makes me feel disrespected and frustrated (those are your feelings). I value punctuality and respect for my time (those are your needs). Could we agree on a specific time, and do our best to stick to it? (and there’s your request).”
Now, that’s more like it!
Non-violent communication helps you express your feelings in a respectful way, as well as opens the door for a solution-focused conversation rather than a heated argument. It emphasises empathy, understanding, and shared responsibility, making communication less about winning an argument and more about understanding each other. How great would that be if the world could do more of that?
However, there’s a slight twist to this plot. Using the 3 R’s or “non-violent communication” only works effectively if you’re being genuine. People are very perceptive when it comes to intentions, and it could come off as manipulative or insincere if you’re just going through the motions.
Remember Dale Carnegie’s secret, and as you adopt these strategies, make sure to be sincere and genuine in your efforts to understand and empathise.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that criticism often says more about the critic than the person being criticised. It reflects your own insecurities, fears, and unmet needs. Instead of criticising others, you can turn inwards and ask yourself,
“What’s really bothering me? What needs am I trying to meet through this criticism?”
This self-reflection can lead to greater self-awareness and personal growth.
Remember, as I mentioned in the previous blog, negative thoughts become physically stuck in the body. These tensions build up over time to become severe pain points, or Thought-Knots as I call them. As you learn to speak with kindness and gentleness, you will notice your body maintains a more relaxed state. Your fascia will thank you!