During a couples counseling session, Debbie told her husband Al, “You are depressed.” The problem with the statement is that it’s critical and analytic—she’s diagnosing her husband, which she’s not qualified to do. Al may be experiencing depression, but Debbie is expressing her concern in an oft-putting way.
I suggested that Debbie change the statement to “You seem depressed.” Now the comment expresses an observation and a concern. Just by changing the word “are” to “seem”, Al now feels cared for by Debbie, rather than diagnosed and judged.
In the same vein, Dina told her husband Eric, “You are condescending.” Eric felt criticized. I suggested to Dina that instead she say, “I find that comment condescending.” With this response, she is giving Eric feedback, rather than accusing him of being condescending, or even worse, characterizing him as a condescending person. Sometimes a word or phrase can make a difference.