11 Aug Not To Be Critical… But
John Gottman is one of the foremost researchers in the field of relationship development and enhancement. If you want to read some of the most current and empirically supported work on the subject, check out his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.
Dr. Gottman and his team have learned to identify certain communication patterns that cause problems. His dubious claim to fame is the ability to predict whether or not a relationship will end in divorce with over 90% accuracy. His research has identified a set of four “particularly poisonous patterns of interaction that left unchecked” can lead to divorce. Please make sure you read this correctly including the “left unchecked” part. They CAN be corrected! The four are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. In his own brand of wry humor Dr. Gottman calls them “the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” We’ll talk about each over time but as a follow up to my last blog let’s talk about the first one – criticism.
As you recall, I last wrote that the first job of the listener is to hear what is actually being said. This is very important. But there is also work to be done by the sender of the message that will make it easier to be heard. One way is to not allow an excess of criticism to be part of the delivery. The quickest way to identify whether one is being excessively critical is to listen for a preponderance of the word “you”.
When a person is upset and conveying that being upset with a lot of the “you” word, it is likely that the person being talked to is feeling some level of criticism or attack. And when we feel attacked, the animal part of us has two responses – attack back (defensiveness) or retreat (stonewalling). So instead of sending the message with a lot of opinions and judgments of “you”, convey it more in terms of “me” and “I” and how this thing we are talking about makes “me” feel. In my opinion this does two important things. First, conveying how something made “me” feel is not arguable. I know how I feel! Second and perhaps more importantly, it increases the chance that the listener will hear more and be less defensive. There may still be a conflict but the conversation may get a few steps further than if there had been more criticism at the outset.