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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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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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