I read a lot of self-help and improvement information. I’m always trying to hack my brain or my attitude to arrive at a better, more productive, more useful individual. I suck at it.
If you read a lot of these books and articles about how to go about getting better, positivity is one of the most important aspects. That’s not to say you should be a Pollyanna. In fact, it’s extremely important to be honest with yourself and others. It’s more about how you’re critical or how you deliver bad news, not whether or not you should deliver bad news.
Quick story that happened to me recently.
My family and I went to Fort Sumter during our vacation (that’s “on holiday” for my friends across the pond). Follow the link for more information about the place. It’s an island, so you have to take a boat out to it. When the boat arrives, you get a quick lecture about what you can see & do in the fort and a caution about not touching things so that you preserve the space so that others can see it in the future. Cool beans.
We’re barely off the boat before I look over and see a four year old kid directly in front of his mother and grandmother, climbing the wall of the fort, in the old section, where most of the important artifacts are (you can see shells embedded in the wall, it’s cool if you’re a total history nerd). I don’t say anything, because it’s not my place to do anything, I’m not his parent. Then I realize that mom & grandma aren’t doing anything. I comment to my wife & kids. The little boy is now climbing around on a ledge in the wall and pulling at stuff, all while talking to mom & g-ma. I turn around and look, pointedly at the adults, eye contact. They still don’t do anything.
I walk over to them. I get the words, “Excuse me, he really shouldn’t…” when mom reaches over and pulls the kid off the decaying historical artefact, and gan-gan gets up in my grill. “We’re handling it!”
A good friend pointed out to me once that I avoid confrontation. She’s right. Why? Two things. First, I like to win. If I get in a confrontation that starts to devolve into a fight, my tendency will be to crush the person, so I try to avoid the conflict. Secondly, I frequently struggle with the right way to say things. I can be overly blunt, so again, I tend to avoid confrontation in order to avoid inadvertent offense by saying the wrong thing and thus exacerbating the confrontation which leads to me trying to crush people, but I know that’s wrong, so… Around we go in my head.
Anyway, confrontation is sometimes required. In the situation above, we’re on an umpty-acre island with 2-3 National Park Rangers. They can’t be everywhere to protect the Fort, so it is on all of us to help out. I believe I did the right thing here (yeah, maybe walking across to the far side of the fort where the Park Rangers were would be less confrontational, and how much damage might have been done in the mean time).
Now granny wanted a fight. You could tell. However, I went positive (mostly). I smiled, said “Thank you. It sure didn’t look like it from where I was standing.” I turned and walked away. She wasn’t happy, but what could she do? Yeah, my little comment wasn’t necessary, I’m only human.
The point is, I was able to get into a confrontation, even with someone who was belligerent, without getting into a fight, and it was by approaching the confrontation in as positive a fashion as possible. I was still able to get my message across and affect a positive outcome. If I had been at all negative in my approach, you’d probably be reading a newspaper article about two tourist families having a brawl at a national landmark.
Why Are you Telling Us?
Because I’m seeing a lot of negativity in our community and I’m not a fan. It’s so easy (and evidently fun) to criticize and snark and snipe. To make our community better, we need feedback. However, if you’re coming at the feedback from a negative point of view, I guarantee two things. First, you’re setting yourself up for a fight. If that’s your aim, great I guess, but it’s not helpful. Second, your message isn’t getting across. It’s that second thing that’s most bothersome. Everyone needs feedback, even if it’s negative, especially if it’s negative. “You got this wrong” is one of the most important messages a person can receive.
However, “You idiot, you got this wrong, again. Why are you so stupid?” isn’t going to be received. It’s just going to put people on the defensive. You’re going to be in a fight. You’re not going to achieve positive change.
Ask me how I know this. “OK. We’ll bite. How do you know this?” Because I’m the person who has used a negative messaging style to communicate and suffered for it. I live to be the negative example for you all. Don’t be like me, be a positive influencer.