I don’t mean to offend you, but…

I don't mean to offend you, but...

By Amber Osborne, {grow} Contributing Columnist

I am sure we’ve all had a friend, coworker, customer or even a stranger say a version of this phrase to us before. Usually, this passive aggressive disclaimer, ”I don’t mean to be a [insert negative term here] but…” is followed up by something offensive or downright mean.

I saw a recent tweet by Sonia Harris on Twitter that had me really thinking about this.

Sometimes it’s just something that we say because we want to protect ourselves; maybe it’s because someone wants a negative reaction back, or wants attention. Maybe they simply want to shield themselves from looking like the bad guy when you decide to rip them a new one for what they’re about to say. Most commonly, it’s just because some of us are awful at communicating.

These phrases are not verbal sunscreen and the bottom line is that someone is usually going to get burned.

In business and in life we are faced with situations where “constructive criticism” is necessary for growth, but there needs to be some sort of way to fight these phrases of “destructive criticism.”

How do we handle these situations and resist the urge to use these phrases ourselves?

Offer help, not hurt

If there is a way you can help fix a noticeable problem, offer suggestions or help. Maybe the other person just hasn’t thought of an idea yet.  You might be able to help them, or connect them with someone who can.

We all have different struggles

Again, unless you can help or offer constructive advice, avoid at all costs what I call “The Expert Syndrome.” As I wrote about in my blog,  it’s never helpful to say to others, “I made these life choices, and because of this I am better and know more than you.”  We all have our journey in life, and others may simply be at different points from you along the way. They may have had less help than you had, or maybe they didn’t have access to the same opportunities. It’s always great to learn from people who have been there before, but never take advice from someone who considers their advice to be the only possible course of action.

Never discourage, always encourage

Sometimes you may find it necessary to use a little “tough love” in these situations, but this card should really be played carefully.  Interactions like these can often be difficult for both parties.  But as a rule of thumb, if you know the person well enough to say, “I don’t like this,” then it’s probably worth taking an extra moment to figure out a more encouraging way to phrase this sentiment. Try to be supportive, and help find a solution.

Ask questions

Don’t lead with a potentially offensive statement. Try to ask questions, see if you can put your discussion into context before you jump to a negative conclusion.

In one ear and out the other

Some people feel smarter when they make these type of comments, others may just get a kick out of belittling you. Don’t let it get to you. If someone is consistently a “Debbie Downer,” just let them know you “appreciate the advice” and go on with your day.

amber osborneAmber Osborne a.k.a @MissDestructo is the CMO at Meshfire, a social media management platform out of Seattle, WA. She’s worked previously in online marketing with clients ranging from bands to brands. Check out her adventures at MissDestructo.com.

Image courtesy www.bigstockphoto.com

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