All too often people choose not to object to what they consider mistreatment, when objecting would greatly improve their lives. Instead, they remain silent, fearing that making a legitimate complaint will reveal a weakness of which the other person will take advantage. Others mistakenly feel that anyone who complains is automatically a troublemaker or a shrew. Still more fell that they are worthwhile to other people only so long as they act compliantly. Nearly all of these think that they have tried to voice their objections and weren’t listed to.
In an intimate relationship, when one person suffers as a result of the other’s behavior, often the inflictor of pain doesn’t realize what he’s doing. Most of us don’t want to inflict pain, yet we are all capable of harming the people we love. If a friend or colleague belittles you, it is your responsibility to tell him and give him the opportunity to show good faith. But to make an objection in a way that is fair, forceful and accurate take practice. The following principles, evolved over years of working with students and married couples have helped to maintain constructive communication in many relationships.
Complain directly to the person you think is harming you.
Try not to object to your colleague’s behavior in front of someone else. To most people, being criticized seems like being personally attacked. Your indifference to your colleague’s comfort, displayed by your willingness to criticize him in front of others, will be taken at least as seriously as the content of what you say. In fairness to him and yourself, wait until you are alone.
Don’t compare the person’s behavior with that of others
No one wants to be described as inferior. Comparisons predispose others not to listen, even when the complaint is justified. Anyhow, such comparisons always miss the main point.
Make your complaints as soon as you can
Speaking up, like any other task, becomes more difficult when you postpone it. Waiting allows your anger to build, and increases the likelihood of making irrelevant comments.
Don’t repeat a point once you’ve made it and the other person has carefully considered it.
The reward for patiently listening out to be exoneration from having to hear the same crime discussed again.
Object only to actions that the other person can change.
You may ask a person not to shout; but if you ask a person not to be angry with you, you are probably expecting too much.
Try to make only one complaint at a time.
If you make more, you will demoralize the other person and perhaps obscure your major point.
Don’t preface your complaint
“Listen. There is something I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time. It may hurt you, but…”
What could be worse? Instead of inoculating your listener against the pain, you are stabbing him to death. By prefaces, you convince both him and yourself that your complaint is to be monstrous, that probably he won’t be capable of receiving it in the same friendly spirit in which you are making it.
After making your complaint in good faith, don’t apologize for it
Apology will only renew your own conflict about whether you had the right to say what you did. It is asking the other person to brace you against the stress of disagreeing with him and imposes an unnecessary burden on him.
Among sarcasm’s invariably motivations are contempt and fear. Your contempt will predispose the other person not to heed you, and you make a choice not to confront him directly, you intensify the fear of him. Being sarcastic is cowardly, no matter how clever the turn of phrase.
Don’t talk about other people’s motivations when making an objection.
Hardly a man is now alive who doesn’t sense the difference between “Please don’t interrupt me” and “You never want me to finish what I am saying.” You give the listener reason to disregard your essential complaint if he concludes that your speculation about his motive is wrong. Don’t confuse consequence and intention.
Avoid words like “always” and “never.”
Exaggerations intended for emphasis rob you of accuracy and the psychological advantages that go with it.
If you never compliment the other person, don’t expect him to remain open to your criticisms
Complaints ring loud and long when they’re the only sounds that are made. If you want make occasional objections, you have the obligation to compliment the person at other times. I also recommend the practice of thanking people for listening to your criticisms.
- Madhusoodan. S