One day, I was tempted to launch a zinger at my husband. He was cleaning a spot on his shorts. I thought about saying, “You could just run a whole load of laundry for a change” but the last part would have been a FOUL: A zinger with no previous clear request. I bit my tongue and walked away that time. Why? Because people deserve warnings that you are getting upset with them and time to improve. It’s not fair to criticize someone for something you have not stated. Others cannot read our minds.
Do you get hit by “zingers” at home or at work? These are passing comments that let you know you are in the dog house. Usually, the one who throws the zinger doesn’t intend to have a direct talk with you about what is wrong and what you can do to fix it. Their approach is hit and run.
What to Say:
If I want my husband to pull more of the laundry weight in our busy household, I could take these steps:
- Tell him about the imbalance I see in this chore. I might say that I think I run 90% of the laundry and he does about 10% of the loads.
- Ask if he agrees with my numbers. This will prevent arguments that are based on different perceptions.
- Tell him what I would like to see and how much I would appreciate the change.
- Try to head off defensiveness by acknowledging other things he does to help the family.
- Ask for his input and agreement.
- If this goes well, thank him.
- If it doesn’t go as you intended, do some problem-solving together.
- Think about potential events that could throw the new plan off track and plan a time to check on how things are working out.
Why This Works:
People don’t want to be blindsided by criticism. They are busy with their own tasks and may not realize what else needs to be done. When you show great disappointment without gentle nudges, they put up protective walls. Assume the best in others and be open to how things look from their perspective. Over time, trust will flourish and defensive walls will come down when you follow these steps.
What Doesn’t Work:
As a psychologist, I’d label zinger-throwing as passive-aggressive. It is a symptom of resentment and hostility. People who launch zingers are often sarcastic. When challenged about their hurtful comments, they feel cornered. They know that the best defense is a good offense so they will say things like:
“You are too sensitive!”
What’s the matter with you?”
“Can’t you take a joke?”
[Last week I was going to ask you about passive-aggressive behavior and here you have it!]
If I were a referee, I would say that “zingers” are “fouls”. They amount to hitting below the belt. Over time, these lead to barriers in the relationship that erode warmth and trust.
Try This Activity:
- Think about chores in your childhood home. Did your parents ask you for a little less talk and a lot more action? When they wanted more help from you, how did they get their message across? Write down the phrases you remember because these may have become the scripts you automatically use today.
- Think about any of your recent pleas for help from others. Have you been frustrated? Have you led off with gentle nudges or electric shocks?
- Write down the names of family members, friends, or co-workers and areas in which you would like to ask. Use the eight steps above.
What are Your Thoughts?
Does this sound feasible?
What are obstacles to getting more help?
Let us know how it goes.