Criticism: What We Are REALLY Saying

20140109-053055.jpgWhen we criticize someone, what we are actually saying is this:

“I want you to feel uncomfortable, self-conscious, and to focus on hiding your fault instead of interacting every time you are around me from this moment forward. I want to make it just a little harder for you to be vulnerable, not only with me but with everyone else.”

When we find fault, we do not set someone on the right path towards changing the very thing that we do not like about them. We actually make it harder. Change and growth come so much easier when we make it safe for others to fail without fear of rejection or criticism.

This doesn’t mean that we have to just put up with problems caused by others or that we shouldn’t intervene when we see someone we care about behaving in self-destructive ways. But how we approach the problem can leave someone feeling empowered or insecure.

A recent study actually backs up this premise. Described in great detail in the Harvard Review, the study conducted by Richard Boyatzis, revealed that focusing on dreams and goals made it easier to change. Imagine the power of something so simple – helping someone focusing on the possibilities, on hope instead of their faults and failings – can actually evoke the change we want to see in them. It really is possible to be the good guy and still address problems.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was brainstorming how to address a problem behavior with an employee. Her initial thought was to point it out directly, but after talking a bit more, we arrived at what might be causing the employee’s annoying habit. She found a way to resolve that problem for the employee, and not only did the annoying behavior go away, but her employee ended up feeling more empowered in their role in her company.

The next time we think we are helping someone improve by pointing out what we see as the problem, we should take a step back and try to find a way to be supportive. Change is scary, and if we can create an environment of trust and care, we will make it easier for others to feel safer to risk trying to change, to feel safe risking failure.

A very interesting study recently published indicates that at least for women, the very fact of being overweight causes a dislike of exercise on a very core level. Why? Fear of failing at the exercise, of feeling awkward or not being able to do what the rest of people exercising are capable of accomplishing. The next time you think you’re helping motivate someone who needs to lose a few pounds by pointing out that fact, think about that. They know they’re overweight. They see it every time they look in the mirror or put their clothes on. Or do much of anything. No one is surprised when someone else points out they’re fat. Try making them feel safe enough to risk new activities, new habits. It may work wonders.

I’ve recently started a fit class with a small group of women that is led by one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. She is constantly pointing out and praising small successes. She expresses her belief in us as a group and individually. She asks us questions about how we are doing in the middle of trying something new and encourages us to take risks to challenge ourselves. I have yet to hear her find fault or criticize someone for how they look or what they can’t do. Because of this, I feel safe for the first time to look awkward, to fail when trying someone new – and, for the first time, I am looking forward to exercising. And it is working – eleven pounds lost in a little over a month. She has succeeded in helping me change where criticism never would have worked.

The next time we’re tempted to point out a fault, to criticize, it would pay to remember that it likely won’t accomplish what we want – it will, in fact, make it harder. Help someone else focus on their dreams, of what might be possible, and see what happens. Oh, and by the way … this works for ourselves, too.

5 AM Epiphany

I realized something this morning.

While I was getting dressed.

In the dark.

And grumbling every moment of the way.

I don’t have to like getting up at 5 AM on a crazy busy day to make sure I get a workout in. I don’t have to like it at all. It’s ok at that I’m grumbling – as long as it isn’t loud enough to wake up everyone else.

I just have to do it.

I was the queen of “I don’t care if you don’t want to – just do it” when my kids were little. It solved a boatload of drama and hours of fruitless negotiations with children who were all smarter than me. I was implacable, and they knew arguing with me was hopeless once that line was thrown down in an argument.

“I don’t care if you don’t like brushing your teeth. Do you like sitting in a dentist’s chair with a drill in your mouth hoping against hope that he knows what he’s doing? Go brush your teeth.” (Ok, so maybe I was a little morbid as well, hearing how it sounds now.)

“I don’t care if you don’t like taking a shower. No one like sitting next to someone who hasn’t showered and just finished PE. Go take a shower.”

So how did I end up a grown adult with the idea that if I didn’t like getting up early to work out, well, then, dear sweetheart, I shouldn’t have to?

The lady in my head has turned on me, I think. Or joined the ranks. This morning she didn’t whine or complain when I rolled out of bed at 4:45 AM. She just seemed sad and whispered, “Coffee.”

I’m probably going to be very sorry for this epiphany in a few minutes when my trainer smiles and says, “Want to do stairs today?”

I’ll tell her the truth. No, I don’t. I want to be in bed reading Zite on my iPad. But then I’ll do it anyway. After all, I have an epiphany to keep up.

I Seriously Have No Rhythm

(reposted from my Diet Diaries blog)

So way back in October of 2006, I decided I wanted to learn how to dance. I even wrote a column about my experience of being invited to not return to a salsa class that I once attended at a local gym. Well, I’m a glutton for punishment. After battling my weight for more than a decade and needing to do something to ramp up my game, I decided to give a dance class another try. You see, I love to watch people dance. It looks so graceful and expressive, and, well, I want to feel those things, too. I mean, in my delusions, I think I could dance like this:

This morning I reaffirmed that if I am ever to shine, it will not be on the dance floor. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll never even be competent enough for the back row of a class.

I found a class at my local health club that described itself as a great class for beginners of any skill level. What a perfect match! So I hurried into a classroom full of ladies, set my keys on a table on the side of the room and took the only spot left – dead middle in the front. The instructor facing us at the front of the room encouraged us to “get ready”. You know, I’ve been “getting ready” for years, and it never helps. I’m still awkward and clumsy when I get moving.

She started the steps out slow enough that I for a minutes I thought I’d maybe found a class suited to my skill level, but it didn’t take long to realize it wasn’t going to be pretty. After a short warm-up, with her feet together, the instructor hopped sideways and back, telling us to move with attitude. Ok, I thought, bring on the attitude. Getting a little braver, I hopped back and forth behind her, letting some attitude show through.

“Ok. Faster now!”

She doubled her speed. I threw attitude out the window in an attempt to just keep up.

“Double-time!”

Double-time? What the heck were we doing? With my feet falling all over each other, I attempted to keep up the best I could. But within a few beats, I was off from the instructor and the rest of the class. Holding my chin up high (to keep from crumbling in embarrassment), I reminded myself that I was in the class to move and lose weight, not impress anyone.

The instructor turned back around to face the class and gave me a quick puzzled look for going the wrong direction. I smiled apologetically and kept moving awkwardly and as quickly as my uncoordinated legs would go. She made several more calls, changed up the routines, and each time I ended up just doing my own thing since what they were doing certainly wasn’t happening with what I had going on.

It was then that I heard the snickering start, and I turned to see two of the women in the class pointing in my direction and laughing. Really? We’re back in seventh grade? They had no idea the courage it took to just get through the door that day, and here they were having a jolly time at my expense. At least one of them had the grace to look embarrassed when our eyes met. I turned back around.

Once I was back inside the safe confines of my vehicle, the tears started. This was even worse than seventh grade. These were grown women, most with children of their own and jobs and husbands and responsibilities. How had they not learned that it wasn’t ok to openly laugh at someone else? Seriously. I’ve raised three kids, started two successful businesses, and yet I left that class feeling more embarrassed and more like a failure than I have in a very long time. A kind word would have gone a long way.

Crazy as it sounds, I may go back. I dearly want to lose weight and learn to move. Then again, maybe I’ll try the kickboxing class next. There were certainly times I’d wished I’d known some of those boxing moves back in seventh grade.