When complaining to someone about their behaviour, don’t focus on what they have done. Instead, state how you feel about their behaviour, and state what needs to happen from now on.
In other words, don’t say to someone ‘You forgot to pick me up, again.’ That’s focusing on their behaviour. Say instead, ‘I don’t like it when you forget to pick me up, and I feel hurt. What can we both do to ensure it doesn’t happen again?’
You’ve told the person how you felt, and you’re focusing upon what needs to happen from now on. Instead of complaining, you are directing the person to take your concern seriously and solve the problem.
Saying, ‘You forget to pick me up, again’ gives the person a chance to argue or make excuses. You don’t get to feel heard, and you don’t get the problem solved.
Criticising the other persons behaviour doesn’t get you far, but stating how you feel, and focusing on what you want to happen from now on, will get you a long way.
Example 1: Instead of, ‘You’re late again!’ try ‘I feel disrespected when you’re late.’ The first statement focuses on their behaviour, and will make them defensive. That won’t help you. The second statement describes how you felt about it, and prompts the person to see the situation from your point of view. Now you can move on to what needs to happen.
‘What does need to happen?’
That’s what you both have to work out. You might say something like, ‘I feel disrespected when you’re late. What can we both do to ensure it doesn’t happen again?’
You have stated how you feel, and then immediately focused on what needs to happen from now on. You have avoided focusing on the other person, which means they are less likely to become defensive and close down.
The point is, don’t disempower yourself by merely complaining. Instead, take charge. State how you feel, and work with the person to rectify the problem.
Example 2: I might say to someone, ‘You keep interrupting me!’ But where does that get me? All I am doing is pointing out the obvious, hoping the other person responds. How lame is that? How about instead: ‘I don’t like it when you interrupt. Please let me finish what I’m saying.’ By stating how I feel, and then focusing on what I want to happen from now on, I am less likely to be interrupted again.
Example 3: ‘You’re always mocking me!’ Nuh. That’s just a lame observation that will prompt the person to argue with you. Try instead: ‘When you mock me I feel hurt. Please don’t mock me again.’
(There we go: a feeling + a requested change of behaviour for the future.)
What could you say instead of . . .
‘You always leave the toilet seat up!’
‘You never empty the dishwasher.’
‘You contradict me in front of the kids.’
‘I think you’re doing that on purpose.’