It was a dinner party. Eric, one of the guests, started to comment on what Gabe, the host, was eating. Eric’s comments were critical, judgmental and insulting, and Gabe was very clearly uncomfortable. When someone suggested changing the subject, Eric argued he was “just trying to express concern” and continued his verbal assault on Gabe. By this time, everyone else was uncomfortable.
What Does Expressing Concern Mean?
Expressing concern is all about a person’s choices. Concern indicates you have a problem with their choices. Expressing them to someone can be extremely beneficial. There are times we all get a little off track and a gentle reminder is just what we need to reevaluate our decisions. If Eric is concerned about the effects of Gabe’s choices, he can express concern and hope to influence Gabe’s future choices.
Influence is the key. The person will change only when she/he wants to change, and judging, nagging or shaming them is unlikely to make them want to change. Judgment, nagging and shame all close the person off; they put more energy into protecting themselves than listening. It doesn’t help. They are more likely to change if they understand the negative effect their choices have on others and those effects are meaningful to them.
What to do instead?
When expressing concern, it serves you better to focus is on how it makes you feel to see the behavior. It is a good time to use the “I” statements. Some possible statements, depending on the situation:
- I am afraid you will not be around to share your wisdom and humor with your children (or grandchildren) if you keep this up.
- I am concerned your quality of life will be compromised.
- I am afraid of losing you.
Again, the focus is on the effect it has on you. When your words are spoken in love and compassion they have the most benefit.
Of course, a dinner party is not the best place to express your concern. Raising sensitive issues in front of others can make things worse. Talk to the person in private.
Sometimes you may feel compelled to do more if the person doesn’t change. This is particularly true in extreme circumstances, such as trying to get a child off drugs or an alcoholic off liquor. When it is a child, you will do anything you can to save them. When it is an adult, there may be times you make the hard decision to accept their decisions. If you need to take it a step further, you can hold a structured intervention. If this is the case, enlist the aid of someone who is expert in the process to guide you.
What Does This Have to Do With Respect?
Respect is based in an acknowledgement of the basic value and dignity of a person. If you approach this thoughtfully, the person maintains their dignity and is more likely to consider your words. If your words damage a person’s sense of self, you lose respect and risk alienating the person.