Why Defensiveness is a Relationship Destroyer


If someone says something that we perceive as “You’re bad,” we generally respond in one of two ways:

  1. You’re even worse (attack).
  2. No, I’m not! (defense)

Both of these are relationship destroyers. Most of us know that attacking leads to fighting and away from connection. In this article, I will discuss why defensiveness is a relationship destroyer. I will also let you know what to do instead.

When two people are connected, they play off each other. If you zig, I zag. So, when someone gets defensive, it puts the other person in the position of being the attacker – whether they actually were or not. Both attacking and defending sends the message, “You’re the bad guy!” This sets up the hero, victim, oppressor triangle. There are no winners here. This pattern can last forever with no forward movement, only hurt for all players.

So what do you do instead? Here are some skills to help.


The first thing that has to happen is that you notice that your buttons have been pushed. When our buttons are pushed, that alerts us that we have buttons. Buttons are growth opportunities. It’s not about what the other person did or said- even if it truly was hurtful. It’s about how we responded to what they did or said that made us vulnerable. So this step is about noticing that we were tweaked and now we’re in a vulnerable position.

Take a Moment to Pause

Slowing down gives us a chance to respond with thoughtfulness. Our impulses may get us in trouble. Take your time. Step back and breathe.

Achieve Clarity

Think about what really happened. What observable data do you have? Are you jumping to conclusions? What does this situation look like if you remove all the judgment? If you are unsure of what you heard, saw, or interpreted, ask for clarification.

Be Effective

When choosing your next move, be effective. What is your big-picture goal? For many of us, our immediate goal is to feel safe again. This is why we attack or defend. Resist that impulse and lean into the problem. If your big-picture goal is to retain connection with this person, think about what will get you there. Think about the data you just got from getting clear.

Did this person really communicate that you’re a bad person or was that your past training creeping in? If this person really did attack you, was he playing out some past issue? Can you bring it back to the real issue? If you feel safe enough to do this, go vulnerable. It’s a really easy way to neutralize conflict when you’re dealing with someone who cares about you.

Let’s look at an example to make this more clear.

Guy: Are you wearing that?


  1. Look at what you’re wearing! You’ve got some nerve asking me about my wardrobe. You’re not exactly fashionable yourself. (attack)
  2. What’s wrong with what I have on? Are you calling me fat? (defensive)
  3. Yes, I love this outfit!
  4. Oh! Do you think it’s not a great choice? I really care about your opinion. What prompted your question? I feel pretty when I wear this. It’s one of my favorite outfits.

Do you see the difference? The first two are probably going to lead to hurt feelings. The third doesn’t show any signs of buttons being pushed. It’s assertive and creates no conflict. In the fourth, a button was probably pushed. It acknowledges the hurt feelings, asks for clarification, and shares the speaker’s perspective. It’s much more connecting and honest than the attack or defensive answer.

Defensiveness is one of the Gottman’s Four Horsemen that predict relationship failure. Chances are, if you have one, you have more than one. If you want healthy relationships, you have to know what kills them and what nurtures them. Removing defensiveness as a coping strategy will help you grow with people instead of away from them.

How to Respond to “How Are You?”

how are you

Everybody gets asked “How are you?” many times a day, but how do you respond? I talk to lots of folks who hate that we give each other the obligatory, “I’m fine. How are you?” They feel it is meaningless pleasantry and yearn for something more. But what does that look like? Does that mean we give people the unvarnished truth no matter what? Does it mean we allow ourselves to be a dark shadow when we are feeling down? Or does it mean that we stay positive and upbeat, in other words lie, to keep things light and easy?

Blending Authenticity and Kindness

Most of the time blending authenticity and kindness works. If you’re feeling low and want to keep it real without bringing things down, this is a good route to take. Or maybe you want to keep it real, but don’t really feel close enough to someone to share how you really feel. So, you choose something that is honest and light. Examples of those responses to “How are you” could be something like:

  • Some good, some bad.
  • Staying grounding.
  • Getting through.
  • It’s a “Deep Breath” day.
  • Feeling grateful to be alive.

These types of answers lets the other person know that things aren’t great without dumping on them.

Avoiding Connection While Staying Polite

Some people are nosey or not nice. It’s wise not to expose your vulnerable under belly to these people so they may hurt you. In these situations, it may be effective to answer with something that avoids connection while staying polite. Here are some suggestions on what to say to do that:

  • Happy to be getting out of here.
  • Wondering how you are doing.
  • How are you? (Turning it back on them).
  • I am present and accounted for.

Keep It Real

I actually love it when people feel comfortable enough to let me know how they truly are. It says, “I trust you.” This isn’t necessarily an obligation to chat about it. Either party can decline that at any time, so don’t be afraid to offer the truth to someone you trust or be afraid to hear it. Here are some examples of what to say:

  • Thanks for asking. It means a lot, but I am not in the mood to talk about that. Let’s talk about….
  • I could use some “me” time.
  • Let me get back to you on that.
  • Not great, not great at all.

Share the Love

Of course, when you’re feeling fabulous, you want to say that! Why keep all the love and light to yourself? Let it beam out into the universe. Here are some examples of how to convey that:

  • I’m fabulous!
  • Happy to see you!
  • Ready to take on the day.
  • I couldn’t be better.

Loneliness and disconnection are rampant. We all have opportunities every day to connect and share our authentic selves. Changing the way we greet each other is an easy way to make a small change in safe way that can have a big impact. Try it and let me know what you think.

Is it You or Is It Me?

Do you ever scratch your head in confusion and say, “Is it you or is it me?” Of course! We all do. But how do you figure out the answer? Here are some steps that can help.

Get Mindful

If you want to see a situation clearly, you have to remove the things that make it confusing. Getting into a mindful space does that. When you are mindful, you remove all judgments and anything else that you cannot verify. For example, if someone is calling you names, you could notice what labels they are using, what happened before the situations, what occurred, and your feelings about the overall situation. So let’s break this down.

“Sheila” and “Guy” are driving together in the car talking about travel. Guy says the waterfalls in Scotland are the best. Sheila then talks about the spectacular waterfalls in the USA, Canada, and Africa, none of which Guy has seen. 

Sheila changes the subject and asks, “How do I make a bank deposit in the teller line?” 

Guy replies, “You’re an idiot. Nobody makes a bank deposit in the teller line. Why don’t you get in the twenty first century?” (this is the unclear event).

Sheila feels hurt and confused. 

Take Responsibility For What Belongs To You

The next step is about taking personal responsibility. You may not know what is going on in the other person’s head, but you certainly know yourself. Sheila looks at the conversation for her tone and body language. She knows that she didn’t intend to offend, yet she also knows that giving offense is not always intentional. So she supposes that could be a possibility.

She then looks at the words themselves. Her words were her honest opinions. Opinions are never wrong. She didn’t violate any boundaries. Sheila knows that insults are never appropriate. She knows that banking is mainly done virtually now, but tellers still exist, so that’s not wrong either. Her feelings, like anyone’s feelings, are valid. So, she finds no intentional error in her behavior.

Ask for Feedback

The next step is to validate your perception. We can be blind to our issues, so if another person is involved, it’s best to ask them directly about what they perceived to get more information.

Sheila says to Guy, “You seem to be upset with me. Can you tell me what is going on?” Guy says, “I am not upset.”

This is a common scenario. When you can’t get any additional information, all you can do is go with the data that you have. In this case, Sheila doesn’t see anything that she needs to repair in her behavior, so for now her answer is “It’s you.” This could change if more information becomes available, but for now it’s all that Sheila has to work with so the most effective thing to do is to let it go.

But let’s say that Guy’s reply is, “You’re so judgmental and high and mighty. You’re always trying to one up people and show off. That’s why I hate talking to you. We can’t just have a normal conversation without you show boating.” 

Okay, now we’ve got loads of feedback! Guy is perceiving Sheila to be a judgmental show off.

Evaluate the Feedback

Guy is clearly blaming Sheila for making him feel something that is uncomfortable. That’s Guy’s issue. But what is Sheila contributing to that? Let’s take a look.

Sheila stays in her wise mind and removes the judgments from Guy’s statements. She sees that Guy feels Sheila is elevating herself above him. She perceives that Guy finds their conversations disturbing. So she takes a look at that for veracity.

Sheila asks herself, “Is this true?” No, these are opinions, not facts.

Sheila puts herself on the receiving end of the things she says and doesn’t feel any sting. She puts herself in Guy’s shoes (because her perceptions and Guy’s are not the same) and can now see how he might feel this way.

Take Action

Now that Sheila has some more information it’s time to decide what to do with it. Sheila can now see that this is stuff that Guy is projecting on her. In other words, it’s his stuff. If Sheila wants to maintain healthy boundaries and keep the power equal, one way to do that is to do nothing. It’s Guy’s work. Let Guy have it.

The other thing Sheila could do is to be compassionate and realize that while Guy’s perceptions are not her problem, there are things that she can do to make it easier on Guy. If this is a meaningful relationship that Sheila wants to keep, this is probably the best option. This is a tricky one though because if you make a lot of accommodations for other people’s feelings, you could end up people pleasing and being self deprecating. That’s not healthy. On the other hand, if you make no accommodations, it may limit the number of people in your circle because we all want to feel safe.

What accommodations? That depends on the situation. The most effective thing to do would be to ask Guy what would make things easier for him. Assuming that he gives a reasonable reply, Sheila could do as he asks.

In a perfect world, Guy would just say something like, “When you talk about places I haven’t seen, I start to feel inferior. I want to see the world and know things and am impatient to get there.” This would honestly communicate the issue without all the destructive judgment and projection. Honesty is the bridge to intimacy and connection. Sometimes we just aren’t that self aware and don’t feel safe enough to be there.

What Not to Do

Notice that Guy spoke with insults, blame, and judgment. Don’t follow that pattern. It will remove mindfulness from the situation and make it cloudy again.

Notice that when Guy says, “I hate talking to you” he turned his feelings of discomfort into something that Sheila was doing to him. Avoid making other people responsible for your feelings. They may be doing something, but they don’t cause you to do or feel anything. You do that.

Don’t assume. Guy assumes that Sheila talking about the waterfalls that she likes is a way to one up Guy. In Sheila’s mind, she was just sharing her joy. If you are not sure what’s happening, ask. The view always depends upon where you are standing. Even if what you think has been the pattern five times before, today could be different. When you stay present in this moment, you create opportunity for it to be different.

Be flexible, but don’t be pressured into accepting compromising your values, integrity, or desires. When Guy says Sheila is an idiot for wanting to make an in-person bank deposit, there is lots of evidence to support that people really don’t do that anymore. Times change. Still this doesn’t make Sheila an idiot for wanting to do that. (See bandwagon fallacy). Doing something different is just a preference. It really doesn’t say anything about Sheila at all. If we were talking about values or integrity, it would be really important to Sheila’s self esteem to keep those things however.

When something happens that leaves you feeling confused, it’s always useful to ask, “Is it me?” Life is always giving us opportunities to grow. If you never ask the question, you will limit yourself. So ask the question. Then use the information to move from confusion to clarity.



Practicing Love Talk

love talk

One really great way to improve your mood, creativity, and connection is to start practicing love talk. Have you ever gotten lost in something so wonderful that you couldn’t wait to give voice to it to bring it out into the world? That’s love talk. Love talk requires that you see the world through loving eyes. When you do that, the view is beautiful. So, it’s easy to speak love into the world.

To do this, get into a mindful, meditative state. Then look out to the world with loving eyes. Let in the beauty of the clouds against the bright blue sky, the sprig of grass struggling to grow beyond the crack in the sidewalk, or the fallen acorn peaking out from beneath a crispy leaf. Then speak this beauty into the world.

You see, too many of us walk by these sights every day without seeing them. Consequently, we miss life as in all its brilliance. Instead we feel the stress of too many cars on too little road. We focus on all the things we haven’t done. We rush through and rush past, missing the delight that is free for all. So we speak with anger, frustration, want, and worry. We speak pain into existence. We complain, gossip, and plot. Yuck!

Life is always a balance of light and dark. It’s easy to see the weeds. Why not see the wildflowers too? Then, when you can do it easily when you’re alone in nature, try it with people. I know it takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and speak love to someone who may not be able to hear it or receive it. Do it anyway.

Lots of people live in darkness. They can only see victimization, poverty, and want. When you engage in love talk, you shine a ray of sunshine that everyone can see and feel – most of all you. Try it right now and see how your heart lifts.

Every day we’re planting seeds. A lone wildflower in a solitary field creates a stunning contrast to the surrounding area. But who knows? You could be creating a whole field of them without even knowing it. It takes time for seeds to blossom. When you make this your daily meditation, the beauty you see will eventually be your own.


Tips for Handling Invalidating Comments

invalidating comments

If you’re in an environment of disrespect, it can make it really hard for you to function. This is really stressful. There are some thing you can do to make it easier. Here are some tips for handling invalidating comments.

Give responses that:

  • reflect YOUR thoughts, feeling, and needs
  • show respect – both self-respect and respect for all other parties
  • acknowledge the feelings of others.

These things will help to keep the situation from escalating. They also model effective communication skills. It could be that the person that you are speaking to comes from an invalidating environment and hasn’t learned how to speak in other ways. Your example will give them other choices.

Other guidelines:

  • ask for clarification if anything has the potential of being unclear
  • if you jump to conclusions, err on the side of a positive assumption
  • stay away from passive aggressive responses
  • stay mindful
  • lower your voice
  • use “I” statements. This way you’re owning your thoughts.
  • ask for what you want
  • practice. Everything is easier with practice.

Here are some examples

Invalidating Event: A friend responds to your sadness by saying, “It’s been two months. You need to get over it.”
Ineffective Response: “Aw, you’re right. I know I should, but I just can’t stop thinking about it.”
Effective Response: “I realize it’s hard for you to see me like this. I need to grieve in my own way.”

Invalidating Event: A family member says, “There you go being crazy again.”
Ineffective Response: “You need to shut up. You’re always judging me. You are not the expert on me!”
Effective Response: “I am not sure what you meant by that, but I have a right to my thoughts and feelings.”

Invalidating Event: Mother says, “Should you really be eating that?”
Ineffective Response: You say nothing. You don’t eat it right then, but you eat that and more behind her back.
Effective Response: “I appreciate your concern. I can handle this.”

Invalidating Event: Co-worker says that you don’t have a chance of getting the supervisor position.
Ineffective Response: “You’re just a jealous bitch who has always hated me!”
Effective Response: “I have as good a chance as anyone else and can certainly apply if I want to.”

The first example is effective because you stand in your power and allow yourself to feel your feelings. Number two is effective because it doesn’t respond to the name calling. It doesn’t go on the attack. It gives the speaker a graceful out, yet allows you to be authentic. The third example is effective because it let’s your mom know that you’re in control and you’re not going to let her tell you what to do – especially not in that way. Finally, the last example is effective because the speaker seems intent on hurting you. This response lets her know that she didn’t. It’s no fun taunting someone who doesn’t react so this type of response will generally result in fewer nasty remarks over time.

If you don’t know what to say, but feel you have to say something, say thank you.  This says, “I acknowledge you” and tends to shut down the conversation. We don’t usually snipe at people who are thanking us.

Invalidating comments are not just what is said. It’s also about how what is said is interpreted. If you stay nonjudgmental, the words can just be perceived as information. Information is neutral so you don’t have to respond to it, and have less chance of responding in ways that result in conflict.

How to Ask Fantastic Questions

asking questions

If you want to be a great communicator, you have to ask fantastic questions. Great teachers, coaches, therapists, and parents are great because they ask great questions. If you want to grow quickly or have fulfilling relationships, you have to ask fantastic questions. This works in reverse as well. If you are not getting the results that you want, perhaps it’s because you’re not asking fantastic questions.

So, do you want to know how? Here are some suggestions.

Be Clear On What You Want

Ask the question that is going to lead to the information that you are seeking. If you don’t know what you want, you won’t get the right information. If you aren’t clear about what you want, the person you are speaking with won’t be either.

Let’s say that you ask a woman, “What are you doing Thursday night?” She responds, “I’m hitting the gym, then going home.” If you’re trying to get a date with her, you haven’t asked for what you wanted nor have you given her a clear indication of what you want. She might think that you want a favor. Or maybe you are just making small talk. Or maybe you want to join her at the gym. “What are you going Thursday night?” is a far leap from “Will you go out with me.” If you want her to go out with you, make a clear request so that no one is guessing what you want.

Wait for the Answer

Sometimes people think they already know the answer. Sometimes they are afraid of the answer. Or maybe they are thinking ahead to the next question so they keep talking before the other speaker finishes. When you ask someone a question, you’re asking for his attention. If he gives it to you, it’s a gift. Allow him to give it to you. If the answer isn’t important enough to listen to, perhaps you shouldn’t ask the question.

Sometimes the querent speaks because the responder pauses. Wait. Let him gather his thoughts. If he doesn’t know, give him space to say that he doesn’t know. Perhaps he needs to gather courage to say what he needs to say. Don’t rush to fill up the empty space. Give him space to respond. This can lead to a deeper understanding and feeling that you care about what’s being said.

Be Sure You Are Approaching the Right Person

If I want to know how my friend feels, asking his mother may not get me the right answer. If I want to know how much a diamond is worth, I probably don’t want to ask my next door neighbor. Whether it’s subjective or objective information that you want, it matters who you ask. Be sure to ask the person who can give you the information that you seek.

Don’t Ask Yes or No Questions

Yes and no are complete sentences. Sometimes that’s all you want to know. When you ask questions beginning with who, where, when, why, how, should, or could you’re more likely to get a more complete answer. For example, if you were trying to get to know someone, which question do you think would generate more knowledge and insight. A: Do you like music? or B: What do you think about Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl show?

Use Follow Up Questions

Use your first question to engage interest. Subsequent questions are for deepening connection or understanding. This works whether you are getting to know your new boss, flirting, or trying to get  sale. You have to have rapport. Ask something like “What do you mean by that?” or “Can you give me an example?” Just be sure that you ask with an open voice and posture so that it doesn’t come across as an interrogation.

Ask Neutral Questions

If you come across like you know the answer, you will dissuade someone from giving you their truth. Or perhaps you will color their response. Either way, that’s not what you want, is it? If you are looking for their real feelings or data, ask for that. “Don’t you think Robert Downey Jr. is the best actor ever?” and “What’s your favorite dish? Spaghetti or lasagna?” both contain subtle pressure to agree or conform. Neither of these gives you accurate information or connection.

Stay in the Moment

Allow what happened a second ago to dictate what is happening now. When both parties are present, conversation flows. We all enjoy this flow. It makes us feel understood and connected. When we jump ahead or get caught up in the past, it ruins the now and can make conversation awkward.

Keep Questions To One Sentence

There is nothing more confusing than a ramble. It’s hard to follow an explanation, followed by a question that is interspersed with musings. Now sometimes that is how being in the moment spills out. It’s not always neat and pretty. If that’s the case, your next question could be, “Could you help me clarify my thoughts?” If the response is yes, then go ahead and ramble. So ramble, get clear, and then ask what you want to know. This can actually be really fun.

So what makes a fantastic question fantastic?

  • gets you the information that you want
  • reduces confusion
  • can reveal more data than you bargained for
  • can uncover context that you didn’t have before and maybe didn’t know to ask for
  • it deepens the rapport
  • leaves both parties feeling affirmed

When you learn how to ask fantastic questions, you’re actually doing a lot of different skills well. You’re being mindful, a good listener, an effective communicator, and a skilled leader. These things can help you to get along better, perform more effectively, feel better understood, and feel more connected to other people. It’s a win/win for everyone.

Why Won’t You Talk to Me?

talk to me

Do you ever want to shake someone and say, “Why won’t you talk to me?” Do you have to repeat yourself? Have you ever wished that your partner, family member, or friend would just pay more attention? This might be one of those times when it’s appropriate to say, “It’s not you. It’s me.” Hear me out.

The Meaning of the Communication is the Response That You Get

Let’s start with the presupposition that the meaning of the communication is the response that you get. So, if you offer a thought or question and you get no response, a “what?” or something other than complete engagement, the problem is that your partner isn’t ready to have that conversation with you. If you want to be effective, you simply wait until you are in rapport to move forward.

In Rapport/Out of Rapport

“In rapport” means that you are connected. “Out of rapport” means you are not connected. If I am sitting on the couch watching tv or working at my desk and you start talking at me, it would be ludicrous to assume that I would hear you or respond because we are not in rapport. I’m not even looking at you!

The problem isn’t that I am not listening, responding to you, or disrespecting you. The problem is that you barged into my mental space without invitation and demanded my attention. You wouldn’t walk into someone’s home uninvited would you? If you want to be in rapport, you knock, wait to be invited in, and then begin speaking.

Rapport Changes Moment to Moment

Now let’s say that we are talking about going to play tennis. Everything is going along fine. It’s animated and happy, then you start talking about your feelings about politics. Suddenly I become quiet and just listen. When you ask me what I think about the latest news event, I am vague and noncommittal. What just happened?

What happened is that we lost rapport. If you aren’t tuned into that, you could keep talking and leave with a disconnected, unsatisfying feeling. Over time this leads to us feeling not so close without knowing why. This happens all the time. The way to avoid it is to pay attention to the ebb and flow of rapport.

Red Light/Green Light

Have you ever played that children’s game Red Light/Green Light? One child is ‘it.” The rest try to grab her. The rules of the game are that the one who is It turns her back to the rest. When she calls “green light” they advance towards her. When she calls “red light” they have to freeze. Meanwhile she turns around trying to catch them moving. If she does, they are out. If she doesn’t they continue to advance until she’s caught.

Staying in rapport is a bit like that game. When we approach, one or both are at a red light state. We may be speaking, but if so, it’s superficial conversation like exchanging “Good morning.” This is safe conversation that is usually not going to upset anyone or ask anything of anyone.

“How are you?” may be an invitation to a green light. If you get a “Fine, and you?” in return, that’s still a red light. It’s still superficial. This means, “I’ll be polite, but don’t probe.” If you get something like, “Man, I can’t believe the morning I’ve had, and it’s only 9:30!” This person is at least at a yellow if not green. This means, “Talk to me about more than pleasantries. I am willing to share.”

If you want to have mutually satisfying conversation, you’ve got to obey the street sign. When both people respect each others’ level of engagement, communication is generally clear and connected.

Hitting a Red Light

Everyone is different. We all have different communication styles. We have different levels of openness. So, despite being sensitive to being in rapport, you may still hit red lights more often than you’d like. What do you do then?

The first thing is to back off. You don’t want to pursue a line of conversation when it’s clear that the other person isn’t engaged. Backing off could mean that you stop talking, change the subject, tactfully leave the room, or something like that.

It’s important to keep in mind that it doesn’t matter what you think about why you’re getting a red light. If you think, “I am more important than that video game and you will give me your attention now,” you may get their attention, but you won’t have rapport. You’ll likely have an argument because you’re creating a power struggle. Demanding rapport doesn’t really work.

If it’s a topic that has to be discussed, you could deal with the underlying emotional need that is creating the red light. For example, let’s say I am want to discuss borrowing your bike, and every time I bring up the subject, there is a disconnect. I could ask myself, “What might make this easier to talk about? Or what could be creating this block?” My next move would either to be to do something that I think would remove the block or ask about the block. When done effectively, this usually leads to a green light.

Why It’s Important

This is really important stuff because without being in rapport, we go through life talking at people. Loneliness is rampant. Being in rapport creates connection. It deepens affection. It facilitates problem solving and leads to greater feelings of happiness. It’s the difference between being tuned into life and tuned out. The other big benefit is that it keeps you from wasting time with people who aren’t interested in connecting with you. You won’t have to ask if you’re being friend zoned or dealing with someone with intimacy issues. You will know.

Keep in mind that people are entitled to their boundaries. They don’t owe you their attention. It’s a gift. When you approach it in this way, conversation usually gets better because people can feel your intentions. If you are honoring them, they generally want to reciprocate. So it works out as a win/win. If you wonder, “Why won’t you talk to me?” try these strategies and let me know how it goes.

Feedback is Your Greatest Teacher


Before I was a therapist, I was a dancer and dance teacher. It was through that experience that I learned that feedback is your greatest teacher.

When my students and I embarked on our first competition experience, only one of them made it to the podium. Despite the lack of trophies, what we took away was far greater than that. We got the judges’ feedback! We poured over every word and used it to make performances better. We were mindful. We had a weekly recital where every student who wanted it got the same type of feedback from me. The next year we got more awards. The next there were even more. By the time I stopped teaching, we had become the school to beat. All because I learned and taught that feedback is your greatest teacher.

Fortunately, this doesn’t just apply to dance. It applies to life.

Feedback is a gift. Regardless of whether or not the sender intends for it to land that way, if you accept it as a gift, you have the means to grow beyond your present limitations. Not all people can give it. Not all people can receive it. If you are in either category, I challenge you to change this.

Some feel that saying anything remotely critical will hurt someone’s feelings so they avoid it. The saying, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is always true. There is usually a way to deliver any message in a softer way. When there isn’t, I find that honesty has a way of resonating as caring. When neither of those is true, you can simply let go of the outcome. You have no control over how a thing is received. Sometimes people aren’t ready to hear the truth, and that’s okay. If you deliver information in the spirit of caring, you offer a gift. The recipient can always refuse it.

Sometimes the challenge in receiving feedback comes from not knowing if the words are criticism or feedback. Criticism is never helpful. It tends to be subjective, hurtful, and has no means for the person to grow. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Criticism vs. Feedback

“That’s ugly.”

Criticism. It’s subjective. It’s doesn’t move anyone to a better place. It’s destructive and hurtful.

“You never listen.”

Feedback. Translation: I am not feeling heard. Can you show me in a different way that what I say is penetrating and means something to you?

“Blue is not a good color on you.”

This one is iffy. It depends on tone and the circumstances around why it is said. If the person is helping you to pick out an outfit and is someone whose fashion sense you respect, it’s probably feedback. It’s still subjective, though, and may not be the best advice.

“Slow down!”

Feedback. Translation: I am not comfortable at this pace. I am not comfortable with you moving at this pace.

“You’re too intense.”

This one is also iffy. If it is said in a way to deflect from dealing with an issue, it’s criticism. However, you can still use it as feedback. The translation could be that what is happening is overwhelming so try a different tactic.

“You’re so lazy. Why don’t you do something?”

Criticism for sure, but you can turn it into feedback by checking to see if there is any truth there. Are you idle? Do you waste time? Or are you just more relaxed and invest in meditative or restorative practices? Perhaps there is room for self improvement. Or maybe it’s another opportunity for appreciation for the things you do well and for staying true to your values.

What do you do if someone gives you feedback that you don’t want or that hurts? Say thank you. When you say thank you, you turn something negative into something positive. It opens your mind to the potential gift there. It acknowledges that whether someone wants to help or hurt, they care enough about the relationship to invest in it by giving you attention and information. If it’s truly criticism, responding with “thank you” can soften the person who gave it to you so that they may think about what they are saying and how they are saying it. Perhaps it will move them to either keep their comments to themselves next time or deliver it with a bit more softness.

If you don’t have enough information to make the criticism or feedback useful, ask for specifics. If someone says your work was “bad” ask how or what would they suggest to improve it? If someone says that your performance is sloppy, ask what he would like to see instead. If someone remarks that your cooking was just “okay” ask what they’d prefer. In the case of something subjective like cooking, there is no right way to cook something. However, knowing what someone likes is the best way to give them what they want.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to cry, pout, or attack. Sometimes getting feedback is hurtful – especially when it is true. Sleep on it. Let the information digest. You may find it easier to accept if you give yourself a little distance.

When you begin to welcome feedback for the growth opportunities that they present, it can make even the toughest criticism easier to take. If you listen to it and use it, it can propel your growth tremendously.

And remember, if someone is pushing you to do or be better, it’s because he cares. A person who believes in your potential will invest in you. He will challenge you to do better. When you hit a target, he may urge or push you to go even further because of the strength and success that you have already shown. It’s a compliment. People don’t invest in people they don’t care about. When you show courage and progress, you may be asked to do even more because you can.

If you never get helpful suggestions, it may show a lack of confidence in your ability or your strength to hear it. So ask for it. Then be grateful when it comes. If you whine and pout when you get great feedback, it may stop coming to you. Ultimately, this makes your life harder and keeps you ignorant.

If you want to grow, adopt the belief that feedback is your greatest teacher. Welcome it. Use it. Then watch how your life blossoms.

Don’t Be a Yes, But-ter…

yes but

Are you a yes, but -ter? What is a yes, but?  Yes, but-ting is when you agree with what is being said, then shoot it down. Here are some examples:

  • I know I need to exercise. I just don’t have time.
  • Of course upgrading my job skills would be great, but I don’t have the money for that.
  • That sounds great in theory, but it would never work.
  • I do want to change, but how am I supposed to do that when my husband/kids/boss/roommate keeps knocking me down?
  • It would be nice if I could say no, but too many people depend on me.

Yes, but doesn’t actually have to include the words yes, but. If your words agree, then disagree, it’s a yes, but statement.

As you look at some of the examples above, they may seem like perfectly reasonable things to say. After all, we all have limited time and money. No man is an island. We all have to deal with other people. And not ideas are workable ones. Saying no is not necessarily a bad thing. What’s not effective about yes, but-ting is the energy behind it.

Yes, but can be a way of agreeing, but not agreeing. If your boyfriend says, “I said I am sorry” and you respond with, “Yes, but you still did it. You can’t take it back,” it’s like you accepted his apology and still want to punish him. It’s an emotional fake out because “but” is a disqualifier. It’s like everything that is said before doesn’t matter.

Yes, but can be a way of maintaining control or being right. For example, if I give you twenty reasons why going for a hot air balloon ride is a great idea, you can shoot it down with just one yes, but comment. Yes, but what if it rains? Yes, but it’s too expensive. Yes, but I am afraid. All it takes is one yes, but comment and you control the conversation and you are right. That can feel pretty powerful.

So, you can see why some people make this a habit! It’s a way of staying safe, not doing what you don’t want to do, and keeping the control. What could be the downside? The downside is that it’s shuts down creativity, emotional connection, and growth! That’s a huge trade off.

Let’s say that as I review my schedule, I really don’t see a lot of time for exercise. Instead of shutting the idea down right there, I can get creative. I think about how other people fit it in and other activities that I haven’t considered before. If you practice this thinking in your mind, you may feel the openness there that isn’t there when you do a yes, but. If you are doing it with other people, you may feel a sense of inclusiveness that comes from accepting ideas rather than shutting them down. This leaves you will a happier feeling inside, more ideas, and usually better solutions. It all comes from your mindset.

So, if yes, but isn’t a great idea, what do you do instead? First, why not just pause and reflect. Consider the request. What are your emotions around this? What are the facts? Do you need more information? What are the implications of each choice? Giving yourself a chance to consider your answer usually leaves the other person feeling that the decision is important to you. Giving yourself the time to think about it can lead to a choice that you might not have made if pressed to give a snap decision.

If the answer is no, say no. You don’t have to sugar coat it, shut other people’s ideas down, or explain. Just say no. This is more direct and doesn’t leave open the impression that you are open to debating the subject.

Another thing you can do is say yes, and. “It would be nice if I could say no, and too many people depend on me” is a completely different feeling from “It would be nice if I could say no, but too many people depend on me.” The first invites brainstorming so that you can say no  in a way that considers the demands of other people. The second shuts down the possibility of being able to say no.

Words are powerful. They are reflections of our inner state. They have energy that can open things up or shut things down. If your words are not working for you, think about changing them – especially if they are a habit. Unhealthy habits keep us stuck. Adopting a yes, and attitude can help us to grow.


How To Say What You Need to Say

how to say

There are lots of reasons why some people don’t know how to say what they need to say. Sometimes it comes from fear of rejection. Sometimes it is about not knowing what to say. Sometimes it’s fear that the words will be misconstrued and things will be even worse. Staying silent almost always comes down to playing it safe. Unfortunately, the downside is that unexpressed truths can lead to low self-esteem, stalled relationships, and an inauthentic life. If you’re ready to put that behind you, here is a guide for how to say what you need to say.

Accept That Your Feelings Are Valid

You have a right to be heard. We all do. If you want others to respect your feelings and your right to be heard, you have to show that you believe this! It’s a practice thing. The more you do it, the easier it will become. It’s not wrong to ask your friends, “Is this crazy?” but when you do it all the time or allow the response to hold you back, you’re invalidating yourself. Stand up, girlfriend! Trust yourself. Even when your facts aren’t straight, your feelings are. Express them.

5336749532_5bdfd8c196_zKnow What You Want Out of the Conversation

By this I don’t mean, “I want you to …” I mean, big picture. What do you want from the relationship? Do you want it to be more honest? More intimate? Do you need better boundaries? How about more clarity? Those are all good big picture goals that can guide your conversation and move your relationship along. Let’s be honest, though. If your goal is to manipulate, shame, blame, hurt, or avenge yourself, perhaps it’s not a good idea to have this conversation at all.

Or maybe the goal is to end the relationship. If this is the case, find a way to say what you need to say that is honest, yet still gentle. Honesty does not have to be brutal.

Do This For You

Tough conversations can sometimes end badly if one person goes in with a preconceived notion of what the outcome should be. Let go of the desire to influence or change someone. When you go in thinking, “I am going to say this because it is my truth. I am doing this for me,” no matter how the other person responds, you will have achieved your primary goal.

Be Succinct

If you’re going to say something that is hard to say and/or hard to hear, be succinct. It will make it easier for you to say what you need to say and easier for the other person to hear because it won’t get lost in a bunch of other ideas. You don’t have to verbalize every thought that comes into your head or heart. Stick to the important highlights. Brevity can keep you from being emotionally overwhelmed as well.

Here is a formula: I observe… I feel… I want…

Here is a not great example.

You’re not spending as much time here as you used to. Focus on your experience, not the other person. You’re going for connection, not trying to create defensiveness.

I feel like you don’t love me anymore, like I am about to get dumped. Remove interpretations (judgments) and stick with feelings.

I want us to be together. Stick to what you want for yourself. It allows the other person freedom to decide what is best for him. It’s a loving approach that removes the need for defensiveness and encourages honesty.

Here is a better example.

I’m noticing that I don’t see you as much as I used to. This is an observable statement of fact that is concrete and from your own point of view. Few people will argue with what is plainly observable.

I’m feeling like we are not as connected and that makes me scared. This focuses on your perceptions. It’s vulnerable which invites intimacy and honesty.

Does this relationship still make you happy? Although this is not a direct request for what you want, if what you want is reassurance that the relationship is still on track, this could be more effective than asking, “Do you still want me?” because it is less confrontational yet still answers the question.

Be Vulnerable Not Emotional

People appreciate honesty. Things can spiral out of control when there is a lot of drama thrown in though. Hysterics can throw things off track because the focus tends to go to either calming down the emotion, blaming the speaker for not maintaining control, or escalating the discussion so that both are now out of control. None of those reactions is productive for problem solving or communication. Vulnerability invites intimacy and makes you closer. High emotion creates barriers.

Accept the Other Person’s Response

Communication is a two way street. You speak your truth. The other person speaks his truth. When respect, understanding, and acceptance is displayed by both parties, you create a foundation of trust that will make the hardest conversations possible. If you attack, deflect, or defend, you create an environment where honest conversations are avoided. Consequently, you either don’t talk, information is not shared, or you may get outright lies. You have a greater chance of hearing the truth if you show that you can handle the truth.

When you put a premium on the truth and the relationship, saying what you need to say becomes a necessary part of growth. If you can see it in that light, saying what you need to say may become something that you desire instead of dread. You may come to appreciate truth from others as much as you will want to give it to others because you see it as an act of love and respect.