Hello everybody, welcome to episode 225 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's question is on how to be less blunt when giving constrictive criticism in personal interactions.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast.com
And for today’s episode, folks, we’re going to have a chance to look at a great question from a listener who is, well, that guy who gives the really blunt criticism. We all know one. Sometimes we love them, sometimes not. Well this listener is on a journey of growth and is really trying to be open to the criticism he’s gotten from others about his own criticism. So he’s here looking for a way to maybe soften his approach when giving others direction, but I think it’ll be important for him to not focus on changing too too much. Let’s see why and hear what he has to say…
QUESTION: “As someone who has recently started going through a personal growth and mindfulness journey, I am actively looking to better myself and will continue to do so as I progress in life. I would consider myself a fairly blunt person and find it difficult to give constructive criticism in a way that will not be taken offensively. I do care and mean well when I give criticism but I have been told I am not approaching it properly. This is mostly in regards to relationships with a significant other but can be expanded to all personal interactions with family and friends. Any advice or direction to an earlier episode will be greatly appreciated!”
Blunt Criticism and Communication Skills
All right, very good question, asker, thanks a lot for sending this one in! We do talk a lot about communication here, but giving criticism specifically is something I’m not sure we’ve touched on. Obviously it’s a very touchy part of communication too, so it’s nice to have an opportunity to talk about this, help you out and hopefully help out many others.
I first want to offer a brief note about the journey of self-growth you mention being on and what part of it I think is really important to keep in mind in conjunction with giving blunt criticism.
You mention wanting to better yourself. I guess I would just caution you to not confuse bettering yourself for no longer being a blunt person. I think this part of your journey should be about bettering your delivery and bettering your actions rather than thinking of it in terms of needing to not be a blunt person, if that makes sense.
Change in A Self-Growth Journey
I say this because such a huge part of the journey of self-growth is learning how to change yourself in such a way that doesn’t make you hate the part of yourself that you’ve changed. It’s imperative to first accept yourself as you are, so that when you do make an effort to better yourself, you’re instead supplementing a version of yourself that you’re already at peace with.
Depending on who you are, self-acceptance doesn’t happen so easily, but putting that at the forefront of your journey is a really important means of ensuring that you’re also capable of self-forgiveness now and in the future.
How this idea pertains to blunt criticism is that if you’re feeling like you need to be a different person and disallowing yourself to be blunt, disallowing that part of who you are to shine, the criticism you give will be less constructive and more laced with resentment.
There’s likely to be resentment towards others for feeling as though their weakness has forced you to reject a certain part of yourself, and of course there will be resentment towards yourself for both giving into this, and resentment towards any urges that come back up to be a blunt person.
One might think those two forms of resentment would contradict one another, but I’m not so sure they would given the lengths we’ll go to do right by others, especially for someone like yourself who is willing to listen to others, respect others, and make changes based on the opinions of others. And there’s evidence of all three in the question you’ve sent in.
Pros and Cons of Blunt Criticism
So instead of feeling like you need to change this part of your identity, let’s instead focus on the inevitable advantages and disadvantages of providing blunt criticism and see how we can alter your criticism in such a way that honors your beliefs towards giving criticism the way you do while also honoring the fact that it’s clearly not working for those you care about.
I’d say that the advantages of blunt criticism include but are not limited to the fact that it’s simple to understand, it’s direct, forward, honest, clear, concise and assertive. Good qualities for sure.
On the other hand, some disadvantages (or at least why it’s proven ineffective in the eyes of your loved ones) might be that it’s not necessarily compassionate, it’s more one directional so the other party doesn’t have so much of a chance to respond, and because of how compactly packaged it is, it’s easier for you to miss nuances while giving it.
Insight into Interactions
You already believe in the advantages, so let’s keep that in tact. But now that you see the disadvantages, how do you think they’re preventing this criticism from being the best it can be?
To me, I think that what’s missing for you is the opportunity to see the side of another person and maybe learn something yourself rather than coming to such a confident, black and white conclusion. What’s missing for them is the opportunity to be heard so they can say their piece and feel respected.
It’s also worth mentioning that you can learn more about what’s missing for them by simply asking them to cite specific examples of how your blunt criticism leaves them wanting more. This will give you insight into your particular interactions which is really important and something I can’t do for you.
This type of exchange will also give you the chance to elaborate more on why you value blunt criticism, and that’s a good thing because that enables you to learn from each other. It’s good for them to get a better grasp on your intentions and be more certain of the fact that you do mean well.
Softening Blunt Criticism
So once you’ve done all that homework, with respect to your natural communication style and the advantages of it that you believe in, let’s have you try to pair your blunt criticism with rhetoric that gives other people the change to have a word.
A very basic template I think you could use would be, “I think X, because of Y and Z, and I say that because I care, not because I want to be insensitive. Is there something you see that I don’t? Let me know what I’m missing or what you’ve tried already. I want to see where you’re coming from.”
This is the beginning of criticism that is blunt, but also allows the other person some space. It’s a good start, but the beauty of good communication and being really mindful of our words is that it doesn’t take any more than this to spark a lot more discovery. An opening like this can lead into a conversation in which you learn more about the other person; what they’ve tried, how they see things, what triggers they might have, and more essential knowledge that will make giving criticism even smoother the next time.
The part that you play in this conversation is the part of an open-minded person who is willing to hear and support their loved ones, which you are. And of course, you can still challenge them, disagree with them, or offer further patient criticism if you think they’re doing something to sabotage themselves. So this isn’t all going to necessarily lead to you having a change in opinion. Maybe sometimes, but not always.
Regardless, what’s most important for your relationships is taken care of. It goes beyond the criticism; it’s open dialogue where both parties are able to have an open and honest exchange, feel mutual respect whether or not they see the things the same way, and are free to take ownership over their own actions and differences.
And that will do it for today everyone! Thanks a lot to the asker again for sending this in. And do remember, everybody, that the discoveries we came to today can really go beyond just giving criticism. This blend of assertiveness and cooperativeness is also great in any type of negotiation where you’re not necessarily telling someone else what to do and are not necessarily discussing something more personal to someone.
Being confident in your own feelings while also making room to hear and learn from others is a highly effective, and just decent strategy for interacting well with people. So think about what types of interactions you might have that don’t always go so well, and consider whether or not you’re doing your part to make them a two way street.
We’re wrapping up now, though. I appreciate you sticking with me till the end everyone, and I hope you’ll join me again for the next OLA episode coming up on Wednesday. Talk to you then.