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How to Communicate Harsh Things Without Causing Resentment

How to Communicate Harsh Things Without Causing Resentment

I recently read a book called “Leadership & Self Deception” by the Arbinger Institute. It explains how self-deception is the most pervasive problem in organizations today. It gave some of the following examples of types of people who suffer from self-deception:

  • Someone who thinks they know things, when they’re really mistaken.
  • Someone who thinks they’re making a positive contribution, when they’re really polluting the workspace with their attitude.
  • Someone who feels they are a victim in a conflict situation, when they’re really the perpetrator.

Maybe you’ve suffered from the low self-awareness of people around you.

And if you have, then you know how important it is, especially when it comes to being persuasive, or to refine the way we choose to communicate. Learning how to communicate more consciously might save you a relationship, a partnership, or a hurtful misunderstanding between you and someone you care about.

Now, in my opinion, one of the most thought-provoking insights from this book comes in the form of a conversation between a character named “Bud” and a character named “Tom.”  Bud is telling Tom about an argument he had with his wife:

“After a while, Nancy and I had actually worked our ways to opposite sides of the room, I was tiring of our little “discussion,” which was making me late for work, and decided to apologize and put an end to it. I walked over to her and said, “I’m sorry, Nancy,” and bent down to kiss her. “Our lips met, if at all, only for a millisecond. It was the world’s shortest kiss. I didn’t intend it that way, but it was all either of us could muster.” “You don’t mean it,” she said quietly, as I backed slowly away. And she was right, of course.” 

—”Leadership and Self-Deception” by the Arbinger Institute

The reason this story is interesting to me is because I feel like it goes to the heart of many interpersonal conflicts.

Someone feels neglected.

And it might not even be intentional. I’m sure Bud does care about his wife’s wellbeing. However, in that moment, he did not care. And she felt it.

It’s just a story but, doesn’t it make you think about partners in your life? Friendships in your life? Parenting in your life?

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All those relationships where caring matters, but where we so often neglect to express it adequatelyIt’s not hard to link this to the human instinct of having our own needs met; I mean, if someone’s not showing reasonable consideration for your condition, why should you and I reasonably consider theirs? But see, that’s the thinking that often leads us to hurt other people in the way we communicate, even when we do mean well. No one wants to make the first step; no one wants to risk being left out in the cold.

If you try to see things from their perspective, they might take advantage and get comfortable, or they might never learn from their mistakes. Now, the thing is: there is a way to be considerate and get your point across:

Communicate how much you care.

I’ll never forget my high school biology teacher and how he motivated me to improve my scores over my senior year. I had had him during my junior year as well, so he pretty much knew what my “normal” output was. That’s why he reacted so strongly to me getting a pitiful F on the very first test.

I very clearly remember the comment he left on my test paper in red ink: “Get to work!!!!!!!!” (With precisely 8 exclamation marks)

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Now, to be honest, under normal circumstances, this approach should not have worked to motivate me at all. I mean I know myself, and this is not the way to do it. But that’s not all he did. I had a good relationship with this teacher in the past, and because he was willing to communicate the following:

  • Belief in my potential
  • Appreciation for my efforts
  • Encouragement

— and all of that throughout the year, it ended up working.

Giving to receive.

He wasn’t just being tough that day; in fact, when I realized (over time) how much he truly believed that I could do well, I felt almost obliged to not disappoint him. I thought to myself: “Damn, so he wasn’t just trying to make me look bad? He thinks I can actually “get to work” and do great. Well, I mean I guess…” I realized after a few discussions and certain interactions in class that it wasn’t just tough talk he had for me; rather, it was actually tough love. He appreciated me as a student, respected me as a person, and saw me as one of the “better ones” with just a slight “launch incident.”

Needless to say, I made biology a higher priority that year (over video games), and actually ended up graduating at the top of my class in that subject — all because this teacher had been able to show me the tough love and consideration that I needed to feel motivated. If this experience and the book I mentioned taught me anything, it’s that it’s possible to make a powerful impression on someone without causing an insidious resentful reaction. And it all comes down to your ability to communicate your warm regards and positive expectations for people.

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You might recognize their efforts, perhaps acknowledge their past good deeds, and certainly show appreciation for their current efforts. Then you can (safely) crack the whip.

Featured photo credit: Ilya via flickr.com

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Last Updated on January 18, 2019

7 Ways To Deal With Negative People

7 Ways To Deal With Negative People

Some people will have a rain cloud hanging over them, no matter what the weather is outside. Their negative attitude is toxic to your own moods, and you probably feel like there is little you can do about it.

But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

If you want to effectively deal with negative people and be a champion of positivity, then your best route is to take definite action through some of the steps below.

1. Limit the time you spend with them.

First, let’s get this out of the way. You can be more positive than a cartoon sponge, but even your enthusiasm has a chance of being afflicted by the constant negativity of a friend.

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In fact, negativity has been proven to damage your health physically, making you vulnerable to high levels of stress and even cardiac disease. There’s no reason to get hurt because of someone else’s bad mood.

Though this may be a little tricky depending on your situation, working to spend slightly less time around negative people will keep your own spirits from slipping as well.

2. Speak up for yourself.

Don’t just absorb the comments that you are being bombarded with, especially if they are about you. It’s wise to be quick to listen and slow to speak, but being too quiet can give the person the impression that you are accepting what’s being said.

3. Don’t pretend that their behavior is “OK.”

This is an easy trap to fall into. Point out to the person that their constant negativity isn’t a good thing. We don’t want to do this because it’s far easier to let someone sit in their woes, and we’d rather just stay out of it.

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But if you want the best for this person, avoid giving the false impression that their negativity is normal.

4. Don’t make their problems your problems.

Though I consider empathy a gift, it can be a dangerous thing. When we hear the complaints of a friend or family member, we typically start to take on their burdens with them.

This is a bad habit to get into, especially if this is a person who is almost exclusively negative. These types of people are prone to embellishing and altering a story in order to gain sympathy.

Why else would they be sharing this with you?

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5. Change the subject.

When you suspect that a conversation is starting to take a turn for the negative, be a champion of positivity by changing the subject. Of course, you have to do this without ignoring what the other person said.

Acknowledge their comment, but move the conversation forward before the euphoric pleasure gained from complaining takes hold of either of you.

6. Talk about solutions, not problems.

Sometimes, changing the subject isn’t an option if you want to deal with negative people, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be positive.

I know that when someone begins dumping complaints on me, I have a hard time knowing exactly what to say. The key is to measure your responses as solution-based.

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You can do this by asking questions like, “Well, how could this be resolved?” or, “How do you think they feel about it?”

Use discernment to find an appropriate response that will help your friend manage their perspectives.

7. Leave them behind.

Sadly, there are times when we have to move on without these friends, especially if you have exhausted your best efforts toward building a positive relationship.

If this person is a family member, you can still have a functioning relationship with them, of course, but you may still have to limit the influence they have over your wellbeing.

That being said, what are some steps you’ve taken to deal with negative people? Let us know in the comments.

You may also want to read: How to Stop the Negative Spin of Thoughts, Emotions and Actions.

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