Last week we examined how to distance ourselves from defensiveness, this week we explore the strategy of asking questions, a technique called negative inquiry.
Ask Questions; Negative Inquiry
This can be scary at first but it does get much easier with practice. Ask questions to better understand what the person means. This will not only serve to expose unwarranted and malicious criticism but, if it is warranted, give you a much better idea as to what specifically you did which caused offense, difficulty or problems.
In the moment it can be hard to think of the right questions to ask so here are the best questions to draw out more specifics from the person who has criticized you:
Can you give me a specific example of when I displayed that behavior?
What aspects of my behavior in the example you gave were particularly damaging?
How did you perceive my behavior?
How did others perceive my behavior?
If the person gives traits such as they thought you were selfish for example, follow up with questions such as…
Can you give me another example of when you thought I was acting selfishly*?
*insert quality they perceived in you.
What impact did my behavior have upon you?
What impact did my behavior have upon others?
Do you consider this incident to be a one off or part of a pattern?
If they say it is part of a pattern follow up with this question…
Can you give me several examples of when I displayed this behavior?
The answers to these questions, though they may be difficult to hear, will provide you with insight and allow you to identify any genuine underlying issues you need to rectify with regards to your behavior.
Equally, if it becomes clear that the criticism is a malicious put down simply say:
‘I’m not prepared to discuss this with you any further until you can offer me genuine examples of when I have displayed this behavior, I find your criticism unsubstantiated’.
Have you used negative inquiry before? What did you think about this weeks negative inquiry questions? Please share your thoughts in the comments below to gain encouragement, support and insight from our community, we’d love to hear from you.
Stay tuned – next week we will explore how to agree with valid criticism in a balanced way, a technique called negative assertion.
‘The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt’ by Deb Bright, PhD