Say you bought something in a store and it doesn’t work. You call the company’s customer support. Whether you are right or wrong, two scenarios can unfold.
In the first scenario the customer support representative goes into defence mode. Without even knowing the details, they start implying it’s your fault, making you feel like an idiot. In the process, they’re making you angrier by the second. In fact, they are making you feel sorry you bought their product in the first place.
In a different scenario, the staff member listens, letting you know they care. They ask questions. They try to understand. It’s obvious they want to help you, even if signs already show that it’s actually not their fault.
Which Way Do You Like More?
In our relationships, most people will react to a complaint negatively. They start defending themselves. Or they hit back, by pulling another event from the past to “make it even.”
If you were a customer, they would effectively be telling you to go to hell and making you feel like an idiot. Would you buy from that company again? Hell no!
So Why Do We Do the Same Thing When It Comes to Our Loved Ones?
Successful couples know how to respond mindfully to complaints from their partner. They know how to react in a non-threatening way, while inviting insight, cooperation, and understanding.
Here’s What You Can Do Instead
1 – Resist striking back
Remind yourself that criticism is a defensive reaction of your partner to something they perceive as danger. You might not (yet) know what that is, but that doesn’t mean you should strike right back and engage in a fight. Take a deep breath instead.
2 – Buy yourself extra time
After you’ve taken a good deep breath, try this:
- “What do you mean?”,
- “I’m sorry to hear that,”
- “I haven’t thought of things this way.”
But, we are human beings and not robots. So sometimes you will get upset nevertheless. In this case here’s a proven way to preventing from things going south by simply addressing your feelings:
- “I feel criticized (angry…) right now but I want to understand. I’m listening.”
You will feel better immediately. But, you’ll be able to listen calmly. That’s what you’re aiming for.
3 – Listen
Encourage your spouse to tell you more.
“I understand. Go on.”
Avoid thinking about how you’re going to reply. Just listen.
4 – Avoid interrupting and using buts
You should avoid waiting for your spouse to catch a breath only to interrupt them. Be patient, and be aware that the word but implicitly contradicts everything your spouse has just said.
5 – Dig deeper
Sometimes you’ll need to dig deeper to uncover the real issue. We tend to assume we know what the other person is thinking. In reality, we are just guessing. Say “What do you mean?” or “Can you help me understand?” Use the five magic questions.
6 – Avoid asking why
That is, if you don’t want a B.S. answer. That’s because sometimes even your spouse won’t be able to put a finger on the real cause of their discontent. Your calmness and gentle response will help your spouse uncover the cause of their dissatisfaction more quickly than asking a question that may feel confrontational.
7 – Summarize
Ensure that you understood the issue correctly.
Say “So, if I’ve got this right…”
Then, seek your spouse’s confirmation. This creates a calming and soothing atmosphere. It tells your partner you were actively listening. It tells them you really care.
8 – Seek a resolution
Ask: “What would you like me to do next time?”
If that’s something you can easily agree to, go for it. If not, you’ll just need to go back and forth a couple of times until you do find a solution satisfactory to both. Patience matters.
9 – Thank your spouse for bringing the issue up
It may sound awkward to thank someone who’s complaining about you. But that’s exactly what you should do. It shows your respect. It shows that you are mature.
Most importantly, it’s how you motivate your partner to talk to you next time. You want to have the communication channels open.
A Valuable Life Skill
Gracefully receiving negative feedback is useful not just in marriage. For example, try the above the approach mentioned in this post the next time your child is upset and angry at you. Your new approach tells them that you treat them with respect and you care about their feelings. It visibly calms your child down.
That’s because they’ve been listened to when they feel bad. It is only then when they are really ready to listen to YOU. More importantly, unconsciously they are picking up a pattern of resolving conflicts calmly from you. What a great gift for their adult life! And they got it from YOU.
QUESTION: Of the above skills, which do you find the most difficult to employ? You can leave a comment by clicking here.