When someone in your life behaves in a way that is off-putting or upsetting to you — maybe they cross one of your boundaries, or perhaps they just do something that is not cool with you, maybe even repeatedly, and you finally get fed up with it — how do you handle the situation?
How do you confront them about their undesirable behavior, or perhaps their lack of desirable behavior?
You want them to change, right?
But is your approach really working to bring about that change?
If you’re like many people, the approach you may very well take is to criticize them and find fault with their behavior. This often takes the form of “You never […]” or “You always […]” — then insert the behavior in question.
But have you ever stopped to consider the reasoning behind criticizing others, hoping it will change their behavior?
If you investigate it, the common thought process is this:
“If I just make this person aware of their behavior by pointing it out to them and how off-putting it is, it should be reason enough for them to change it.”
Sounds logical enough, doesn’t it?
But does it actually work?
When you criticize people and find fault with their behavior, do they end up changing?
I’m willing to bet the answer is: No way!
What usually ends up happening?
Don’t they generally just dig in their heels and become defensive and argumentative?
They either start trying to weasel their way out of the situation by making excuses for themselves and the way they act, or they attempt to justify their behavior by giving you reasons for why they act the way they do.
And in other cases, they may even turn the situation around on you and start criticizing you in return. They may retaliate and start picking out your own faults and flaws.
Now instead of getting them to change, the only thing that’s accomplished is a heated argument, where nothing comes of it but hostility and resentment.
So what’s the solution to this problem?
And how do we get others to change?
The first thing you need to realize is that finding fault with others and criticizing their behavior doesn’t work to bring about change in other people. In fact, it only brings out the worst in them. It only leads to them feeling like they’re under attack.
And how do we respond when we’re under attack?
We either try to defend ourselves, or we fight back
And in that, the whole aim or purpose of our initial actions and the results we hope to achieve (to get the other person to change their behavior because it wreaks some form of hardship on us) get lost along the way. They get pushed to the side and instead, the interaction takes on a complete tangent in the form of an argument, where nothing but animosity and strife are the result.
Then we may get angry and bitter because the person can’t see the error of their ways, even though we’ve so accurately pointed them out to them. And then when the argument is over, likely unresolved and filled with bitterness and resentment, perhaps we go and complain and gossip to our friends about how the person just can’t see and doesn’t understand how their behavior negatively affects us.
See Also: The Best Way to Win an Argument
We blame them for being the problem
But what if the problem isn’t really with them? What if the real problem is the approach we took in confronting the situation? What if fault finding and criticizing just doesn’t work to bring about changes in others as it relates to us?
If so, what is the real solution?
How do we truly create change in others’ behavior?
The secret is to separate the behavior in question from the person’s sense of identity.
What do I mean by that?
Instead of criticizing someone’s behavior, making them feel like they’re under attack (which will generally only make them defensive and argumentative), we have to go under their radar and prevent their ego from getting involved in the conversation.
This is done by telling the person how their behavior (or lack of it) make you feel. Instead of placing the focus on them by putting them down, focus on your feelings.
Simply use a statement like this:
“When you […], I feel […].”
For example, instead of saying, “You always come so home so late! What’s the matter with you?” — which will probably just lead to a full-blown argument — simply say, “When you come home so late, I feel worried.”
This prevents you from putting a laser focus on them, which will prevent them from getting defensive and argumentative. Instead, it puts the focus on your feelings about their behavior. And because you haven’t involved their ego in the confrontation, they will be open to listening to you and understanding where you’re coming from.
Because it’s about you and not them, they won’t throw up their barriers as in the case of criticizing and fault finding.
Then the next step is follow-up with a “Would you […]?” question.
For example, “Would you please call if you know you’re going to be coming home late to let me know?”
Here, you’re not demanding anything of them. You’re approaching the subject in a civil way. You’re asking them for permission, in a sense. You’re asking for their consent in the matter.
You’re giving them the choice, and that always leads to more positive results.
If you take this approach instead of criticizing someone and finding fault with them, hoping it will change their behavior, you’re almost sure to find it’s a method that actually produces the results you want.
“When you […], I feel […].”
“Would you […]?”
Remember those words the next time you feel like criticizing someone who behaviors in a way that is undesirable to you and you want them to change, and you’ll find it’s the difference between an argument where nothing but an argument is the result, and creating real, positive change in others.