Negative enquiry

Negative enquiry helps you to prompt criticism in order to either use the information if it turns out your critic is trying to be constructive, or to expose it if your critic is being purely manipulative, or vicious. If it is constructive, you can give the other person and opportunity to express honest, negative feelings which will help improve communication between you. By asking for more information about what is negative, you can break the manipulative cycle and prompt the person you are dealing with to be more assertive.

The technique

You ask for clarification of the things about yourself or your behaviour that might be negative. It is important to get specific, eliciting information in an unemotional low key manner, e.g. “Can you be more specific?” or “What have I done to make you think that?” or “What is it about the way that I ….. that you don’t like?” .

Listen closely to the words and help the critic to get specific …

CRITIC
“You’ve been acting really standoffish lately, too good for the rest of us”
YOU
“What do you mean when you say that?”
CRITIC
“Well you just seem to think you’re better than the rest of us”
YOU
“Is it something to do with what I’ve been saying or to do with how I spend my time?”
CRITIC
“Well, I suppose it’s more to do with how you spend your time”
YOU
“What is it about how I spend my time”
CRITIC
“Well, you never seem to have time for your friends these days – you’re always so busy”
CRITIC
“You are so unprofessional”
YOU
“What is about me that makes you think I’m unprofessional?”
CRITIC
“The way you dress. You’re always so scruffy”
YOU
“You say I’m dressed scruffily. What is it about how I’m dressed that makes me look scruffy?”
CRITIC
“Well, you shoes, for one thing”
YOU
“What is it about my shoes that’s scruffy?”
CRITIC
“Just look at them. You haven’t shined them in a month”
YOU ”
Then it’s my shoes not being shined that makes me look unprofessional”
CRITIC
“Yes… that’s one thing.”

 This approach can often result in a much more constructive conversation. In the above examples, you would have learned very little if you had responded aggressively or if you had ignored the criticism. You can now decide if you want to change anything.

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