When I used to hear things like: “Don’t take this personally, but …” or “I am not trying to criticize you, but …” my hackles would rise in preparation. My loyal defenses would kick in (we all know whatever follows that “but” is not going to be good) and I would brace myself for whatever was to come next.
I’d brace myself for the “feedback” and then try to explain my side of things, argue, defend, educate them, accuse them of misunderstanding me or (this was my favorite) smile and thank them for their feedback … and then vow silently to avoid them at all costs in the future.
When I first heard Marshall Rosenberg suggest that we replace hearing all criticism with the more accurate perception that people are simply trying to tell us about what is deeply important to them in tragic ways, it was life-changing.
No more criticism? Imagine.
The practice of translating judgments into underlying feelings and needs is liberating, soothing, and option-rich. Instead of hearing what people are saying, practice hearing what they mean.
“You’re always late” might mean “I want to trust that I matter to you and that you care about me as you plan your time.”
“You’re so selfish” might mean “I’d like you to express care and consideration of me in addition to what you are offering to yourself.”
“You never hear anything that I say” might mean “I want to know that the things that are deeply important to me have landed on you in a way that matters to us both and that I can recognize.”
“You insist on misunderstanding everything that I say” might mean “I feel stuck and don’t know what to say or how to say it so that we can get to more shared reality and togetherness in our conversations.”
Shift from hearing the “you” to understanding the deeper “I.”
We humans have a crazy habit of telling other people about our pain, suffering, sadnesses, and disappointments by making it about them and what they do. It’s incredibly disempowering and yet, sadly, we keep doing it.
Want more empowerment? Talk about yourself. Seriously, only about you.
It’s simply a more powerful and effective position than reverting to old shame and blame habits.
Even saying “Wow, when I hear you say that, I feel surprised and a little taken aback because I am not sure how to respond effectively. Give me a minute to take that in…” has the power to change the direction of habitual conflict patterns.
If you’d like to hear a little more on this subject, here’s a short video with a few more points.
Relationships are the foundation of well-being, and well-being is both a personal and a communal journey. Our personal growth benefits our partners, children, family and whole community. Join me in bringing more empathy, compassion, collaboration, acceptance, and service into the world.
P.S. For those of you wondering about the subject line, you are right! “Criticized” is not a feeling! It is an analysis of what someone is doing to you. Well done for catching that!