There are two ways of saying things to others. The first, legitimate and constructive, express what we observe or feel. With the second we express a judgment.
Javier loves to write in his spare time. He has always given his friends short stories for their birthday, or on any occasion that is provided.
Four years ago, he made the big leap and published his first novel. He had a surprising reception and received many compliments from his acquaintances and also from anonymous readers who, to his surprise, wrote to him to congratulate him on the book. In view of the extraordinary result of this first experience, he was encouraged to write his second work.
After a year and a half of intense night work (Javier works in a large company and has to steal time from sleep to be able to write), two months ago he managed to publish it. As on the first occasion, he began to receive emails with opinions from his readers.
An anonymous reader of his first book sent him the following message: “Dear Javier, I have read your second book. Although I have really enjoyed reading it, the story you are telling is very distant to me and it has been difficult for me to get into the characters…”.
Javier would have preferred a compliment, no doubt, but despite everything he valued that opinion very positively, since it showed him that, by betting on an unconventional story as he had done, he was running the risk of losing part of his audience. It was a valuable teaching that helped him progress as a writer.
That same week he received another opinion: “Thank you for your wonderful second book. I have felt absolutely identified with the protagonist. I’ve been into the story from the first page. It seemed written for me”.
Javier not only loved that email, but also discovered that a special story like that could make him lose audiences, but at the same time he connected extraordinarily with those who were reflected in it. Again, the comment helped him grow as a writer.
He received a third email that same day: “Javier, I have read your second book. In confidence, and that it does not taste bad to you, it shows that you have not worked on it ”.
Javier stared at the screen. That reader had not liked the book. And not because he did not connect with the story or because he had been bored reading it. It was his fault because “he hadn’t worked it out. ” Recalling the nights when, despite being tired, he forced himself to spend some time writing, the afternoons spent in the library looking for information and the exhausting hours of corrections, always on the weekend, he brusquely erased the mail, making it disappear from the inbox.
EVERYTHING CAN BE SAID, IF WE KNOW HOW
This is a lead story on the emotional scale; that imaginary scale that contrasts the positive and the negative that we do in a relationship, and that tells us if it is in good health.
Javier always answers his readers’ emails. He never answered it: the excess lead resulted in the bankruptcy of the relationship between an anonymous reader and an amateur writer. But, beyond the anecdote, it is a story that exemplifies the damage we do to our relationships when we do wrong criticism, when through it we judge others. In essence, there are two ways of saying things to others, especially those that we don’t like:
- The first is to express in the first person what I feel or what I observe. It is always a legitimate and usually constructive way, since most of the time it provokes a serene reflection in the other.
- The second is that, instead of expressing what I feel or observe, I go one step further: I draw conclusions from it and transform my criticism into a judgment of the other. This type of criticism is hardly constructive. Only people with great personal security will accept it and reflect on it. Most will be hurt by the arbitrariness of the judgment, a judgment that adds no value.
Let’s imagine that someone raises their voice to us. We can say: “Your tone of voice hurts me” ( our experience ). Or draw our own conclusion from it and affirm: “You are hysterical” ( judgment of the other ). In the first case we are helping the other (if he wants to continue the dialogue with us, he will probably lower the tone of his voice). In the second, we will most likely provoke their reaction.
Criticism expressed in the form of judgment is also a somewhat selfish way of transferring responsibility: Does your tone of voice hurt me? It has nothing to do with my sensitivity or my insecurity. The fault is yours because you are hysterical.
Between two people, everything can be said if we know how. Moving from judgmental criticism to first-person observations we can turn a relationship 180 degrees. Because on an emotional level, easy criticism is pure lead in the balance, while a well-communicated observation can be pure gold.