by Catherine Pratt
If you find it frustrating that no one seems to listen to your opinions then maybe it's time to take a look at how you're expressing your ideas.
It could be simply that you're not expressing yourself in an effective way. Effective communication can easily be learned and usually just needs an awareness of how you're coming across to the other person.
To explain this in more detail, I thought I'd go through an example of how NOT to express your opinion.
The example I'm going to use is the following email which I received this morning:
"Oh dear. Why must you keep on citing celebrities as examples of 'successful' lives? It's so trite and so very unencouraging. They are not the best examples, you know…"
This is somewhat typical of the anonymous criticisms I get at various times. As I'm going to show you, they're not very effective at making their point. So, let's learn from this example and see how you can make your opinion heard and also be respected for your suggestion.
When you want someone to listen to you, ask yourself the following 10 questions first and see if you're making your suggestion in the best possible way.
1. Are You Criticizing Anonymously?
First, this person didn't provide a way for me to respond to her. If you're going to make negative comments to someone, stand behind your words. Don't criticize anonymously or talk behind someone's back. It's important that you allow the other person to express their point of view as well. Also, the person might need to ask you questions to ensure they really understand your suggestion.
A valuable opportunity has been lost in this case because this person didn't provide a contact email. I would have loved to ask her who she would like to see included in the list of inspirational people. As I'm not sure who she considers a "celebrity", she's missed out on making her point effectively so I could make changes to my web site. Currently on my web site, I do include inspirational people like Stephen Hawkings, the artist Robert Toth, Beethoven, Abraham Lincoln, various writers, etc. Are these considered "celebrities" in her mind? I'll never know because she was too afraid to stand behind her words.
This also brings us to another point. If you're afraid the person will react negatively to your words, then that could be a really good sign that you should rethink how you've phrased your comments.
2. What's Your Real Intention? Hurtful or Helpful?
I actually suspect this person is a narcissist or blamer by the way this particular email was phrased but if we ignore that for a moment, what do you think was the intention of this email? Helpful or hurtful? I think the intention comes across as trying to be hurtful and that's the tone the reader will pick up. Whether she meant it or not, it comes across as trying to put me down. If someone suspects you're intention is to be hurtful, they again will be less likely to listen to your concern.
Before you criticize someone, ask yourself what's your real intention? Why are you really making this comment? Are you trying to hurt the other person for whatever reason or do you feel you have the answer to a problem? If you suspect at all that you're just being hurtful, then don't make your comments.
But ask yourself:
If your intentions aren't to be helpful then don't make the comments. Or at least, take some time to calm down prior to making your comments. Don't make comments in the heat of the moment because you'll most likely end up regretting them later. You also don't know if your path might cross with this person in the future. Imagine if you made nasty comments to someone only to find out a few weeks later they were the one interviewing you for a job you really wanted?
It's far better to be respectful and polite to people. You might actually make a friend and have it turn out to be a really great thing. Making your point by being nasty gets you nowhere. It's also far better to focus on what you really want to accomplish or have the other person do.
So, before you make a comment, ask yourself what's the real intention behind your words. If it's to be hurtful, don't say anything. It's not worth it.
3. What's Your Tone?
Is your tone negative or positive? People respond much more
favorably to a positive message than a negative one. If we take a look
at this email, the tone is:
- very negative
It's also very critical of me as a person and accuses me of constant wrongdoing.
Making your point by being critical of the person instead of their actions is a sure fire way to not be heard. The other person will simply resent you and your comments. It also instantly puts the other person on the defensive and they'll want to tell you why you're wrong. So, the focus of the conversation is no longer on your suggestion. The focus has switched to them defending themselves against your attack. The focus has also turned to be about you and they'll be questioning why is this person being so mean and saying these things? The suggestion becomes completely lost in the way the message is provided.
A far better approach would be to be friendly and kind.
So, be aware of how you phrase things. Make sure that your tone isn't coming across like intimidation or that you're looking down at the other person. There's also no good reason to be rude to people. People will listen to you far more if you come across as being helpful rather than hurtful or aggressive.
4. How Have You Phrased Your Opinion?
Imagine for a minute that this person had emailed their opinion in the following way instead:
"Hi, I find the following people really inspirational: Stephen Hawkings, Beethoven, and the Dalai Lama. What do you think about including these people on your web site as well?"
Can you see how differently that email would have been received as opposed to the one I actually got? If she'd phrased it this way, I would have thought, "Wow, great suggestion. I'm going to do that." Instead, the gut reaction for anyone to this email is one of being put on the defensive. I also don't value that person's opinion as much simply because of how she phrased it.
Most people would react negatively to receiving such an email. Some people would also react very aggressively in a negative way which is probably why they didn't provide a contact email. But, when you phrase your comments negatively, the person isn't thinking about your point, they're thinking about attacking you back for your comments.
If you phrase things this way, you've lost a valuable opportunity to be heard and you're also probably end up feeling hurt when the other person responds by telling you off. It's not that your point isn't important, it's simply because you haven't expressed yourself effectively.
Also, ask yourself how you would feel if someone said the comments to you? How would you feel if you received this email? Would you be happy to get it? Most likely you wouldn't. So, don't expect the other person to like it if you wouldn't appreciate it either. In that case, it's time to make your point in a more effective way. It doesn't take any more time to make your comments in a nice way and you'll be listened to rather than having people be angry with you. It just makes more sense to be nice rather than nasty.
A lot of people seem to think they need to put the other person down first in order for their opinion to be heard. If you look around, you'll find this happens a lot in conversations you hear. But, really, it's the worst way you could make your point. No one likes to be put down. You might think it gives you more power because you've made the other person look bad but what it really does it make the other person lose respect for you.
Don't put other people down. It just makes things worse for yourself and people won't respect you or listen to you. You may also come across as being a bully.
5. Are You Using Generalizations?
By saying something like, "why must you keep on..." is inferring that the other person always does something which annoys you. Using words like "always" and "never" weakens your argument greatly because it's not true. The person you're arguing with will start explaining why your statement of "always" and "never" isn't true and again your point is lost simply because of how you said it. You're also not sticking to the actual situation you want changed and again your point is lost.
Also, the use of "you know" at the end of the email weakens the point of the communication. It assumes that the reader, me in this case, automatically agrees with you when I don't. If I was wanting to become an actor, I would find it very encouraging to read about what other actors had gone through in order to be successful. So, don't assume everyone agrees with your point of view. It's also a very subtle put down of the other person. It's like you're telling them that you think they're stupid. It's not necessary to do that. It's far better to simply make your point clearly without the insults so people can understand what you're trying to say.
6. Are You Just Criticizing or Are You Providing Actual Solutions?
It's very easy to criticize those people that are actually doing something. It's much harder to actually take the time and think of some possible solutions. It would have been far more valuable if this person had taken the time to actually think of some people she'd like to see included.
In the way this email is phrased, she's just criticizing. She's part of the problem, not the solution. She's also not wanting to make any actual effort to think of possible fixes to what she sees as the problem. She just wants to criticize and have someone else figure out the solution and do all the work. She's also expecting her opinion to be accepted as "right" and for changes to be made without even having to back up her argument. Depending on why you're making your opinion, if people don't understand where you're coming from, they're also less likely to listen to you.
7. What Are Your Expectations?
A big part of effective communication is listening to the other side and understanding their point of view and perspective. You can't just think, "I'm right. You're wrong. It's my way or no way." This is where a lot of people go wrong with their communication. Most people just want to know how to change other people or make them agree with them. That's not effective communication. You need to be open to hearing other sides of the argument. Even if you don't agree with the other person, it will allow you to understand them better and to see why they do things the way they do.
By being open, you might discover a solution to the problem that's even better than what you originally thought was the answer. So, your expectations shouldn't be for you to "win" the argument. Your expectations should be to learn all you can about the situation and then find a solution that works for everyone. Your intention should be to find a way to improve or fix the issue not beat someone up just so you can say that you're right.
My guess is that this person also expected me to react negatively to any suggestions she had. That's just her expectations though. Most people are happy to hear suggestions on how to improve something and make it better. It's all in how you convey the message though.
8. Are You Making it a Win For The Other Person As Well?
People will be far more receptive to your ideas if they can see the value in them. If you come out just criticizing or attacking them, they're far less likely to respond favorably to your ideas. The best solutions are also those that work for both sides. What are the benefits for the other person if they agree with your ideas? Why is your idea a good idea? Put a positive spin on your comments and you're far more likely to have your ideas accepted.
9. Are You Being Clear In What You Want To Happen?
If we take a look at the email again, is it clear what she wants me to do? Not really. I don't know which article she's found so offensive and it's also hard to tell if she's being critical of my entire site and me as well or if she just wants me to use non celebrities as examples. So, if you want to make a point, make sure it's clear and the other person doesn't have to guess what you're trying to say. Just say, "I'd like to see some examples of inspirational people who aren't celebrities like Joe Blow down at my grocery store" then it's very clear what you think is the solution and people can actually take action. Otherwise, it's very easy for your message to be misinterpreted or even ignored.
10. Have You Done Your Research?
Have you actually made sure that your comments are true? It's easy to jump to conclusions. This person read one article and then assumed that all my articles only mention celebrities for example. If they'd looked around a little more, they would have seen that I make a point of mentioning people from all walks of life and use them as inspiration. For example this article, Inspirational Stories provides tons of great examples. It's best to do your research before acting on impulse. Usually acting on impulse is a knee-jerk emotional response based on a bias that person already has. Your comments say a lot about you. Is what you're saying what you want people to think about you?
Also, if you take the time to do your research, you might find that you've actually jumped to the wrong conclusion. If this person had read more, they would have seen that we actually share the same opinion that celebrities aren't the only inspirational people. But, this person just wanted to criticize rather than check her facts first. So, make sure you do your research before you speak.
One other thing to remember is that the person or company that you send an email to is a real person with feelings. People often write angry and mean emails to companies because they don't think about the person who's going to read that email. They just want to vent their anger but remember a real person is going to read your email.
If you find that people aren't listening to you or they don't take your suggestions seriously, ask yourself these 10 questions. You'll get a really good idea as to whether you're being effective in your communication or not. And, as you can see, some really minor changes will make a dramatic difference to how people respond to you.
And, remember, there's enough negativity in the world, don't add to it. Keep your intentions positive and helpful.