Much of the advice on relationships at work, at home and in school is on the power of positive communication. And, of course, how we interact with each other is critically important. Good listening comes into this but no-one talks much about when NOT to say anything and what not to say. Words that stir negative feelings can escalate a confrontation, and if these are more frequent than the positive, can contribute to the downfall of a relationship – or at least require a big effort to get it back on track. Yes, issues need addressing, but none of the following statements help do that constructively.
Here are ten things not to say!
That was a stupid thing to do. The person to whom you are speaking KNOWS what they did was not very sensible and are probably now copping the consequences. You do not have to tell them what they already know.
You should have thought of that first. Yes, but it’s too late now so why say it? It goes no-where.
If I were you I would … Yes, but you are not them. This statement can be a red rag to a teenager who is trying to sort out things for themselves by not being you!
How many times do I have to tell you? If you are still saying the same old and it’s still not making any difference, why waste your breath?
You never … / always … This gives the person you are speaking to no wriggle room. You have told them that there are no exceptions on which they can build the positive.
I might as well do it myself. You are telling someone they are incompetent and they may very well believe you and go read the newspaper – why not give them the chance to learn and you less to do?
I told you that would happen. And now you can be smug and self-satisfied that you were right and knew better. Enjoy the moment as you watch your relationship crumble.
You are (eg) selfish, lazy, hopeless, naughty etc. Labelling people like this (especially children and young people) builds their understanding of who they are. Labels are very sticky and define us. If you want to change people for the better give them something positive to live up to.
Just get over it. Putting your interpretation on a situation can lead to undermining someone’s feelings – they will not feel heard and the issue will take much longer to resolve.
Why? why? why? (usually accompanied by vigorous hand gestures, raised eyebrows and lifted shoulders). It’s almost impossible to respond rationally to this question in a crisis. Any attempt to answer succinctly and on the spot is unlikely to throw any light on what happened.
Positive communication means, amongst other things, showing you believe in someone’s good intentions, acknowledging that accidents happen, identifying strengths rather than deficits, saying something supportive when things go pear-shaped, avoiding blame, hearing rather than dismissing someone’s distress and accepting that no-one is perfect. Including you.