"I should have put the open creamer in front of the new one," Bob noted.
"Oh, did I open a new one when there was one already open?" I asked. Yes, I had, and that actually was the main point of Bob's comment. I appreciated the reminder to check for open cartons before opening a new one. I welcomed Bob's words as indirectly graceful.
But indirectly graceful communication can sound the same as sarcasm and manipulation. What makes the difference?
I believe two things.
- Bob meant what he said, even if he had another point beyond the one he made. The goal of the observation was to reduce the occurrences of having two identical items open at once. In fact, when he puts the groceries away, if he puts the open one in front, it will help us achieve that target - a shared target. Yes, he wanted me to note my omission, but he was sincere in his comment about his.
- His comment didn't veil a plethora of unspoken resentments. It really was about the need to use up the open items first, not about 17 years of umbrage about my lack of attentiveness.
I responded with appreciation. But what if I had sensed an undercurrent? I might have responded with,
- Wow. Is my inattentiveness getting to you? Would you like to talk about it? I could use your help with it.
Either way, his words provided an opportunity to flip the conversation forward toward continuously improving our life together.