"There were things Kirk and I could have done to save our marriage," told me now-divorced Rachel after each of us ordered our second glass of pinot grigio "But we could never really talk about things, you know?" she added.
"How come?" I asked.
"Oh, you didn't know him, did you? He doesn't take criticism well. I tried to discuss things with him many times, but as soon as he felt criticized, or heard something he didn't want to hear, he got defensive, and started attacking me full force," told me Rachel.
Kirk is not the only person who doesn't like criticism. I mean, who does?
So what can you do when you need to confront someone but you don't want to hurt his or her feelings, nor have yours hurt because the other person feels criticized and attacks you?
Use the Put Your Helmet On technique my friend Bob and I created a few years ago. It's based on the premise that people will not care how much you know until they know how much you care.
So start by showing the other person that you care. Say something like this:
"I'd like to talk with you about some things you may prefer not to hear (or some issues most people find difficult to address). Please know two things:
First, that my intention is not to judge you, criticize you, or in any way harm you. On the contrary, it is because I care about you (and about us) that I'd like to have this conversation: I believe having it will benefit our relationship.
Second, that I will respect your right to disagree with me. (Optionally add: I actually hope you do the same.)"
Adapt this mini-script to your own style, and use your own words. Just be sincere and keep it brief and to the point.
My recommendation is that you explain this technique to the other person way before you need to use it. Pick a time when you're both calm, having a pleasant conversation about neutral or positive issues, and say something like "I read about a technique I think we could use. Wanna hear about it?" This way, when in the future you need to say something "delicate" just say, "Put Your Helmet On," and they'll know what you mean.
You may want to put your own helmet on before asking them, though.