I don’t want to be negative, but …

In this blog I want you to think about how you interact with other people; in particular how you interact with significant others at home or at work.

I first want to look at the effect of negative comments and criticism.  You may have noticed you can say something negative to one person and they take it in the way it was intended, whilst saying the same thing to somebody else results in a negative reaction.

Man receiving negative criticismOne way of explaining this is to use Stephen Covey’s metaphor of an emotional bank account.  With every relationship we have we maintain an emotion bank account.  Praise and support builds up a positive balance in the account.  Criticism and blame make withdrawals that reduce the balance.  The more the balance is positive, the less affect any negative action has.  But if the balance is too low, a withdrawal can take you down to zero or worse still leave you ‘overdrawn’; and conflict ensues.

However one positive act doesn’t equal one negative act.  Dr John Gottman a psychologist,  studied 2,000 relationships over a 20 year period measuring positive and negative behaviours and comparing this to how successful and enduring the relationship proved to be.  He found that for success, positive comments need to outweigh negative comments by about five to one!  This is thought to be due to negative comments being more likely to elicit a negative reaction and escalation of the negative exchanges.

So the key is to give praise whenever you can; it builds the emotional bank account, increases the other person’s self-esteem and means the occasional negative comment will be acceptable.  And if you do accidentally make a withdrawal, apologise and correct the mistake straight away.

However, sometimes it is necessary and useful to be able to point out when someone’s behaviour isn’t satisfactory.  How can this be done?  The answer is using constructive feedback.  Constructive feedback is not criticism.

There are three distinct steps to giving constructive feedback; and they are NOT to give some good news, then give the bad news then some more good news: the proverbial sandwich.  The three steps are:

  • be specific about recent observable behaviour that is unsatisfactory – note, it’s the behaviour that is the problem, not the person
  • explain the reasons for the behaviour being unacceptable – how it made you feel or the consequences to other people or the business
  • discuss what would be better or more acceptable behaviour and how this can be achieved.

Don’t forget, before giving the feedback it is worth asking the person what they thought about the situation: you may find they are more critical of themselves and welcome the chance to improve.

Mike Jones specialises in transitional and performance coaching.  If you would like help in how to improve relationships at work call him now on +44 (0)1908 509088 or email mike@potentialmatters.co.uk.


About Mike Jones

Mike Jones is an executive coach specialising in developing Emotional Intelligence through transitional and performance coaching. You can contact him directly on +44(0)7747 011 589 or via mike@potentialmatters.co.uk

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