Once, when I was very small, I was walking through the airport with my grandfather when a man began running towards us. When he finally reached us, a bit out of breath, he extended his hand and thanked my grandfather for changing his life. It was an unbelievably strange sight at the time, but I would see it quite a few more times before he died.
He was special in a number of ways. He commanded any room he was in, not with bravado or boisterousness, but with a quiet authority. He spoke softly in a grave, deep voice. Whenever he opened his mouth, people shut theirs. His opinion was consistently sought, and people not only respected his advice, but generally seemed to implement it. He was one of the most effective communicators I’ve ever seen.
Thinking about it now, one of the reasons he was so successful was his ability to effectively criticize. If an arrogant person sought his advice, he never said “stop being so arrogant” or even “you might want to tone down the bravado”. Instead it was, “which of these two techniques do you think would be more effective?” and then he’d demonstrate something close to what the arrogant person would do, and something close to what his advice was, and let the person arrive at the conclusion “by himself”. He employed many tricks like this to subtly camouflage anything negative he had to say, and the response was usually incredible. You’ve never seen nasty waiters so immediately disarmed or hardened police so quickly befriended.
The lesson is, if you have something negative to say, find a way to couch it in a positive, or in a way that removes all suggestion that the person you’re talking to is the problem. You should never, ever have to say “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…”