Dani: You spend more time with your work friends than you do with me.
Tal: That’s not true! I haven’t gone out with them in at least two weeks.
What’s happening in this conversation?
Dani raises a sensitive topic that includes criticism, and Tal responds by disagreeing and using data to strengthen her point.
When Tal feels criticism coming, she goes into an automatic state that can be called ‘defensive listening’. She listens for the inaccuracies and puts her energy into how she can prove Dani wrong.
Why? To protect herself from the pain of the criticism.
Can you relate?
This happens to all of us at some point in a close relationship.
When we hear criticism coming our way, we listen for what we DON’T agree with.
Meanwhile, we plan our defense, figure out how to be right.
This leads the conversation into a negative cycle, with no space for vulnerability or for genuine feelings to be shared.
Do you want to be right or do you want to feel more connected to your partner?
By listening openly to criticism, you and your partner can grow closer and more connected.
Next time a sensitive conversation comes up, try this approach:
- Listen to understand, to discover only what you CAN agree with
- Don’t interrupt, don’t argue, don’t correct facts
- Be curious – ask questions, ask for specific examples (kindly, not nitpicking)
- Look for the feelings behind the criticism (Dani may be feeling lonely or insecure)
- Be prepared to apologize or take responsibility for something, even a small part of the criticism that you do agree with
- Acknowledge that it took courage for the other person to bring up this issue and say thank you
It’s not easy, but it gets easier with practice!
Relationship Coaching offers you powerful tools to make your relationship more open and loving.