I once had a manager who gave me some amazing communication advice. I was working a summer job at a retail shop. A customer had been rude to me, and I couldn’t understand why. When the customer left the store, I consulted my manager: “What did I do wrong?”
“It is not your fault,” she said, “he is just an unhappy person.”
That comment blew me away. I had always felt that when people were rude to me it was because I had somehow made them angry. My manager taught me that a person’s attitude toward me isn’t always a reflection of my own actions. Sometimes the way people communicate is a reflection of their personal outlook on life: some people are “half-full communicators”–they communicate on generally positive terms. Other people are “half-empty communicators”–they default to negative comments.
Understanding that people are typically half-full or half-empty communicators can help you better understand and react to comments. It can also help you blame yourself less if you tend to interpret negative comments as personal insults.
On the flip side, knowing whether you are a half-full or half-empty communicator can help you understand the impact you have on others.
Do you usually have a negative response to things people say? For example, if someone says to you, “I drove behind a Tesla today,” would you respond with, “I can’t believe anyone would spend that much money on a car!” Or, would you say, “Cool. That means you didn’t have to smell any car exhaust!”
Here’s a quick quiz to help you determine if you are a positive (half-full) or negative (half-empty) communicator. Imagine that a friend has made each of the following comments. How would you respond?
1. The sun is really bright.
2. It’s really windy out today.
3. I nearly got into an accident on the way over here.
4. My business is keeping me so busy.
5. The music is so loud in this restaurant.
Think about your responses and compare them with the sample responses below. Are your replies more similar to the positive comments or the negative comments?
1. “The sun is really bright.”
Negative: “It’s too bright.”
Positive: “It’s such a great day.”
2. “It’s really windy out today.”
Negative: “I hate this weather.”
Positive: “The wind might help clear the pollen away.”
3. “I nearly got into an accident on the way over here.”
Negative: “The drivers here are so bad.”
Positive: “I’m glad you didn’t get into an accident.”
4. “My business is keeping me so busy.”
Negative: “You’re not nearly as busy as me.”
Positive: “That’s great for your business.”
5. “The music is so loud in this restaurant.”
Negative: “I hate restaurants like this.”
Positive: “It does make it feel like an exciting place, though.”
If your replies tend to be positive, congratulations! People probably enjoy your company. You may be inspiring others in ways you never realized.
If your replies tend to be negative, you may be a half-empty communicator. The people you speak with may be taking your comments the wrong way. They might feel that you are blaming them for your troubles or that you simply don’t like them. How is this affecting your relationships? Are people avoiding you? Are you bringing them down? Stop spreading negativity!
Here is an assignment for you half-empty communicators: for the next 24 hours, every time someone speaks to you, respond with a positive comment. (Respond in your head if you feel like your optimism will look insincere.) When you’ve completed this task, answer these questions:
1. How did your positive comments affect your general attitude toward your life?
2. How did people respond to your comments?
3. Was it easy to respond positively?
4. How did other people generally respond to you?
5. Are the people you talk to mostly positive or negative communicators?
Did it make a difference?
It is important that we think before we speak. Our comments–whether positive or negative–impact those around us.
I wonder sometimes whether the customer who was rude to me ever realized he was being rude. I also wonder whether he impacted others that day. I am fortunate that I had a half-full communicator as a manager.