The Power of Positive Requests

In my last newsletter we discussed the first of four communication styles that researcher John Gottman, Ph.D., identified as destructive to intimacy: defensiveness. Today we’ll be discussing a second problematic style: criticism.

Criticism, which is more often used by women then men, is the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. Often times criticisms may be stated as a complaint, but criticisms are really veiled swipes at the perceived defects in the other party’s personality. While some people may call criticism “constructive,” I’ve never met a person (including myself) who doesn’t feel hurt by a criticism. And when people are repeatedly hurt by criticism, intimacy is eroded and relationships suffer.

For example, the statement “You never take out the trash even though I’ve asked you a million times” is a criticism because the underlying message is actually, “You’re a lazy bum and you never help out around the house.” While there might be some elements of truth in this statement, it is doubtful that it’s entirely true.

As an alternative, try this three-step approach the next time you feel triggered to criticize someone:

1. I feel… (use an actual feeling word here, such as angry, irritated, frustrated, etc.)
2. About what… (clarify what is bothering you)
3. I need… (state specifically what you would like/want and avoid stating what you don’t want)

With these steps in mind, we can restate the above criticism as follows: “I feel frustrated when you tell me that you’re going to take out the trash and you don’t follow through. I would appreciate it if you would take out the trash right now.” This request demonstrates that the person who would have otherwise criticized is able to contain his/her frustrations and deliver a respectful statement and request to the listener.

If you’re not clear about what you feel or need, talk it over with a trusted friend or a professional before delivering your new statement. Evaluate the outcome of your efforts and refine your strategy as needed. I’m hopeful that this approach will help you cultivate more meaningful and respectful relationships of all kinds.

Stay tuned for next month’s article when we discuss another intimacy-destroying tactic. Until then, be well and love one another!