What do all of the following statements have in common?
Wife to Overweight Husband: Are you sure you want to eat that second piece of cake?
Mom to Teenage Son: I don’t think you want to wear those stained pants… for the fifth day in a row.
Father to daughter: You shouldn’t go to school with your hair looking so knotty.
Son to Elderly Mom: There’s a much simpler way to pay your bills. Let me show you how.
Husband to Wife: The blue shirt you wore yesterday matches so much better with the skirt you are wearing today.
What all of the above statements have in common is that the speaker is, well… Right! The fat husband is better off without a second piece of cake, the son shouldn’t go out in stained clothes, ideally the daughter would leave the house with her hair brushed, mom could be cutting her bill paying time in half, and wife may very well look better pairing the blue shirt with her current skirt.
So what’s the problem? Sometimes we may feel that we should point out our friends’ and families’ flaws and inconsistencies because we feel we know better. We have valid points. Not only do we feel like we SHOULD point out these supposed flaws, but we MUST, because ultimately it’s for our loved ones’ good. We are helping them live the best life they possibly can. In fact, friends and family should be grateful for our helpful insight and input. Right?
Not so much.
We may be correct on the advice, suggestions and constructive criticisms we are giving our loved ones but at what cost? Frequently dishing out advice, commenting or criticizing causes fissures in relationships and that can turn into cracks and even full blown canyons over time. In the very best case scenario, overweight husband might say,”You know, maybe you are right, I shouldn’t have that second piece of cake. Thanks for looking out for me.” But more likely, overweight husband will feel critcised and become hurt of irritated. More likely he will feel nagged and want to keep his distance from you. Score one for being right, lose one for maintaining a strong, positive relationship.
Let’s look at the mom and her teenage son. It would be ideal if son left the house in clean clothing, but what’s the worst thing that will happen if he doesn’t? Nothing really. But what’s the worst thing that will happen if mom comments on them? Son will likely leave the house thinking, “there goes my mom, criticizing and nagging me. Again.
So is there ever a time for helpful suggestions or constructive criticism, you cry? Well, I’m glad you asked, because there definitely is. The key is first carefully weighing the costs verses the benefits of commenting. Ask yourself three things:
1) “What is more important to me now and in the future? Is it my relationship with this person, or is it the point I want to make?”
2) “Will my point be well taken and accepted?” In order to determine this answer, think abt prior interactions you’ve had with this person regarding the specific issue you want to address. How they took your comments in the past is a pretty good indicator of how they will be received in the future. If you recall that it just upsets the person, even if your intentions are good, it’s best to remain silent.
3) How critical is the point I want to make? Will it have a significant impact on the future? Is it a safety issue? Even if it temporarily takes a negative toll on my relationship with this person, is it more important that I raise this point?
The important thing to remember is pick your battles and choose your comments wisely and sporadically. You can be right, but in the long run, you and everyone else are better off with strong, positive, healthy relationships.