HOW TO SURMOUNT NEGATIVE IMPRESSIONS

  Rev. Dr. Ronald W. Lehenbauer, LMFT, LCC Pastoral Counselor

Do you know anyone who has a negative impression of you?  That’s very unpleasant, isn’t it?  Who was it that said, “You can’t please all the people all the time.”  But maybe you’d like to correct that negative impression if you can.  It could be a co-worker or boss, or a family-member, or a friend-acquaintance, or even a spouse.  They may not verbalize it, but somehow you sense it – by their body language or tone of voice or facial expression. How might you correct a negative impression they have of you?  

What Not To Do.

First let’s talk about how not to correct a negative impression: Get defensive and argue with them about it.  You may feel attacked and want to attack back.  That’s not likely to work.  In fact it may only solidify their negative impression of you.  That’s often how arguments get started and escalate.  

It’s Not “Just the Facts”

Something important to know is that arguments – and negative impressions – are usually not about facts.  You are likely to heighten the negative impression if you … ARGUE about FACTS.  If you’re arguing with the other person about facts, what you’re implying is … “Due to these facts, you have no right to feel the way you do.  There’s something wrong with you.”  Your best chance for surmounting a negative impression is to DIFFERENTIATE with UNDERSTANDING and EMPATHY.  Let me explain.

Start with Listening

To change a negative impression, we must first understand that negative impressions are hardly ever created by facts.  They often arise from a lack of understanding and empathy.  That other person is going to have their own thoughts and feelings and point of view, and they are not necessarily going to be the same as mine, and that’s OK!  That’s what we call differentiated thinking.  So I need to listen closely to what they’re saying and work at really understanding their point of view and their feelings.  

Follow with Compassion

And then, second, we respond to them compassionately with understanding and empathy.  I’ll improve their negative impression of me by making them feel heard and valued.  If they are feeling some hurt, showing care for their painful emotions will almost always lighten those hurts.

Your Choice: Truth or Power Struggle?

Psychologist Steven Stosny talks about The Marital Paradox: If you contradict an accusation by a partner, you’re proving it true.  If you agree with it, you’re proving it false.*   He goes on to explain: “Almost every criticism and complaint – even if it’s mostly false – will have a kernel of truth about it.  And if you pay attention to the truth of it, you have improvement.  If you focus on the part you disagree with, it’s just going to be a power struggle.  You’ll hardly ever convince the other person by introducing facts.  Over time observing the marital paradox helps produce a closer relationship.”     

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*Dr. Lehenbauer derived most of the ideas in this article from Dr. Steven Stosny, “Negative Impressions In Love,” You Tube, 10/9/2019.

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The Rev. Dr. Ronald Lehenbauer, DMin, MDiv, LMFT completed certification in pastoral counseling at the Post-graduate Center for Mental Health in New York, NY and also is certified as an Imago Relationship Therapist. A member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, Dr. Lehenbauer is a NY state licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, providing counseling for adults and couples at LCC’s Woodside and Mineola sites. 

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Call us at 1-800-317-1173 for more information or to set an appointment at any of our nine sites over the metropolitan New York area.

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