Behind every criticism there is a request being made
Really, someone criticizes me and I am supposed to believe they are actually making a request? Give me a break! A criticism is a criticism…. or is it????
In the mediation world we use that saying and we watch for one party to criticize the other – because most of the time if we dig beneath the criticism, that party is actually asking something of the other party, but for whatever reason they are unable to do it in a more productive manner.
Let’s say you have had a crazy busy weekend, it’s Monday and today nothing went the way you had hoped. You just need to go home and sit in front of the TV and veg out. So, you get home and you are sitting in front of the TV – finally starting to relax and BAM – your partner comes into the room and says “I wish I was special enough to get to sit around and do nothing, it must be nice to be that special.” Now, you have a choice, do you spout off what immediately comes to your mind, something like “Really, and that is from the person who spent the entire weekend out shopping and seeing a movie while I was home busting my butt trying to get the basement remodel finished, who do you think you are talking to like that?” You know the rest of this story, someone ends up on the couch tonight, both parties feel like the other is wrong and both parties probably feel badly about something they said.
There is another option, when someone challenges and criticizes you, instead of reacting immediately, ask yourself “What are they wanting from me? What request is being made behind the criticism?” Let’s look at this interaction – What could your partner be requesting from you? Attention, help with dinner, help with the kids, a listening ear, there are many possibilities and the good news is as long as you understand there is some kind of request being made you can respond differently and shift the interaction.
There is actually a format you can use to respond in times like this. The format is “It sounds (seems, appears) like you are “feeling” because “reason” and “their request.”
In this situation it would go something like this “It sounds like you are angry (feeling) because you need help with the kids (reason) and would like me to get up and help (their request).”
Here is the good news about using this format to respond! Even if you guess wrong on the feeling, reason and request, you have changed the conversation and as you respond the other person will check out the validity of your statement within themselves and they will correct you if you are wrong. Either way you have shifted the interaction and you now are clear about what the other is requesting of you and why. They may respond “no, I am feeling frustrated because I had a hard day as well and could use a helping hand and listening ear in the kitchen.” Do not argue with their response, unless you want to start the entire cycle over again. Now you know what they are wanting/needing from you and the criticism has turned into a request and you can decide how to respond.
By using this technique, you can shift a negative, confrontational interaction into a more respectful and understanding interaction.
Let’s try this one more time – this time in the workplace – Your co-workr comes into your office and asks for a file they need to complete their work. You have
a mess on your desk that is falling onto the floor and you fumble around looking for the file. After a few minutes you co-worker says “I can’t stand working on a project with you… It’s like working with PigPen.” We could all think of some great comebacks but lets use the format proposed above …. “Is sounds like you are frustrated because I cannot quickly find the file you need and you would like me to be more organized so I don’t hold you up.” Again, they may respond – No, I am sick and tired because I feel like I am always waiting on you and would like you to be more respectful of my time.” Again, don’t argue… just move from there. You know the request.
Once you understand the request you can decide if you want to act on it, offer something else or just say you can’t give them what they need or want. In any case, the interaction becomes less confrontational, more respectful and honest.
So, next time you are feeling attacked by another, take a deep breath and ask yourself “what is the request they could be making” and use the format above to respond. I promise, it will shift the interaction into something more workable for both of you!
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