“You got skinny while I was gone!” said an acquaintance I haven’t seen in three months. Her tone was critical. Judgmental at best.
I got skinny while you were gone? Nice to see you, too. And by the way, what does that even MEAN?
Was I fat before?
Am I gaunt now? Haggard, maybe?
I replied, “Well, when I last saw you I had been eating a LOT of Chick-fil-A. And singlehandedly keeping Duncan Hines in business.” (It’s true. When I’m stressed I like to eat chocolate icing straight from the container with a spoon. A little habit I picked up while pregnant.)
Ok. I didn’t really say that.
But seriously how do you respond? Um, thanks…I think? It made me mad. It hurt.
Words matter. They affect people deeply. The fact is, that “compliment” was laced with an insult.
People may not intentionally criticize, but they certainly don’t put much thought into choosing their words wisely. It’s all too common for our comments to have implied insults or hidden agendas.
Here are some ways to improve conventional messages:
- Replace “Wow, you look tired!” with “What can I do to help you today?”
- Instead of “You haven’t completed the project?!?” ask “What obstacles are you facing?”
- Rather than “I haven’t heard from you in forever!” say “It’s wonderful to hear your voice!”
- Refrain from commenting on your friend’s weight. A simple, “You look fantastic!” is the best compliment.
What are some other words you often hear that have an underlying tone of criticism? How can they be rephrased in order to build people up?