When it comes to giving advice to a loved one who has messed up, striking while the iron is hot is likely to get you scalded.
Yes, you may be dying to tell him what he did wrong, what he should have done, what he absolutely needs to do now, and more, but the path of wisdom suggests you zip your lip, at least for the time being.
This doesn’t mean your viewpoint doesn’t count. Not at all. Your feelings are significant; your ideas may be valuable. Yet, if you dump everything you’re thinking on the other person while he is still recoiling from messing up, you won’t be heard in the way you want to be heard.
Instead, you can count on one of four responses from the other person:
- Counterattack (“why didn’t you tell me this would happen?”)
- Defensiveness (“I was only trying to make things better”)
- Belittling your ideas (“you have no idea what you’re talking about”)
- Walking out of the room (dismissing you, effectively cutting you off)
So, as enticing as it may be to immediately say everything that’s on your mind about what went wrong, it’s better for you to bite your tongue. Why? Because when one is still reeling from disappointment, it’s hard to accept advice or criticism.
So what should you do?
If you can, show some empathy (“you must be feeling really bad”), some understanding (“what a disappointment it must be”), or, simply, offer a gentle touch.
If you wait for a short period of time (hours, days or even a week) before you speak up, the chances of your being heard will dramatically increase. So, speak up! But do so while the iron is warm, not hot.
On the other hand, if you wait till the iron is cold, you become tagged as the person who can never let anything go. “There she goes again, always negative, always picking on something.”
Though my advice is geared toward adult or teen communication, my message is best illustrated with a story about a child.
Picture a 4-year-old kid who is running down the steps and falls. His chin is scraped, his knee is bleeding, he’s crying hysterically. Sure, you could berate him for running, tell him to be more careful, or give him a lecture on what could have happened to him. Isn’t it best, even if you’re scared, annoyed or inconvenienced, to tend to his wound, tell him you know it hurts, give him a loving hug and save all the rest for later?
If you want to be heard when a loved one has messed up, be aware of how and when you respond. Hurting someone when they are already deeply hurt evokes frustrating feelings for both parties.