5 Little Words to Use to Point Out Peoples Faults Without Making Them Defensive and Argumentative

January 19th, 2021

Have you ever been in that situation where someone else’s behavior was affecting you negatively, but you weren’t sure how to go about bringing it to their attention?

After all, don’t people often tend to get defensive and even argumentative whenever we point out their faults, weaknesses or bad behaviors? Instead of looking at themselves, their behavior and how it affects others, don’t they tend to either start giving us excuses for their behavior, or else they start justifying it and giving us reasons for why they act the way they do? And then isn’t there actually the odd time, when instead of staying focused on themselves, they actually try to turn the situation around on us and start criticizing us for our behavior, meanwhile completely ignoring their own bad behavior that we ’re trying to bring to their attention?

When we do this, what usually ends up happening? What’s the end result? And perhaps more importantly, does this approach work to resolve the situation and get them to see what they’re doing and hopefully change it – or does it usually just make things worse?

Oftentimes, pointing out peoples’ faults and short-coming as it relates to the negative affects it has on us just results in arguments that lead to nothing but friction, hostility and bitterness.

So if that’s the case, how do we clue people into the negative ways in which their behavior may adversely affect us? And how can we do it in a way that will actually get the person to pause and listen to us instead of becoming defensive and argumentative?

I’ve discovered there are five magic words you can use. Using these five words or this phrase will almost always prevent people from seeking to defend themselves and their behavior and actually look at how it may impact others negatively.

And those magic words are just this:

“Are you aware that you ... ?”

For example, if someone has the habit of cutting you off mid-sentence repeatedly, instead of saying, "You always cut me off mid-sentence!" which will likely just make them try to defend themselves and argue back with you instead of reaching a solution, you could say, "Are you aware that you cut me off when I’m talking?"

Because it’s a question, it causes them to think about it, which will usually prevent them from letting their egos get involved, which just results in them becoming defensive and argumentative. Now, in order to answer your question, they have to take a look at themselves and their behavior. Instead of instinctively responding by thinking, "I don’t cut people off!" and denying their behavior without even investigating it, as is usually the case when we “accuse” people by directly pointing out the behavior in question, they’ll be thinking, “Wait a minute, do I cut people off?”

We generally aren’t aware of our bad behavior and how it affects others negatively, so when people accuse us of something we don’t realize we’re doing, we just want to defend ourselves to save face. But if our behavior is calmly questioned, we’re much more willing to pause, listen and look.

Saying “Are you aware that you ... ?” empowers you to avoid people putting their guards up, which would just stop them from listening to you, and instead it will cause them to look at themselves.

After all, if we accuse people, they feel like they’re being attacked. And how do people respond when they feel like they’re under attack? They either seek to defend themselves, or else they fight back, right?

But using the phrase “Are you aware that you ... ?” doesn’t make people feel like they’re being assaulted, and thus it allows them to think rationally about the situation and look at it objectively.

If you use this approach the next time someone’s bad behavior is affecting you negatively, you’ll likely find that it prevents the situation from turning into a bitter argument and also produces the results you’re after ... to get the person to see the error of their ways and acknowledge how their behavior affects you negatively.

So remember this phrase the next time you’re in a situation where you want to bring someone else’s behavior to their attention without causing them to get defensive and argumentative...

“Are you aware that you ... ?”

I’m sure that if you put this simple phrase into your “communication toolbox,” and you use it when you want to make people aware of their negative behavior, it will serve your purpose well.


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