Healthy relationships require functional feedback systems. Unfortunately, most people get skittish about feedback because it’s often served up critically. Challenging feedback is essential for sustainable connection, but it need not be painful to give or receive.
Feedback can go wrong when it’s either too much or too little. If you’re someone who tends to critique people easily, observe your inner narrative, especially about you being right and other people being wrong. See if you can step out of this right-wrong paradigm and focus on compassion for yourself and the person bothering you. This can help you let some of your grievances go without comment.
On the other hand, if you’re someone who tends to easily excuse other people’s behavior but find yourself growing resentful and disengaging from the connection, then you probably need to be more direct in expressing your concerns. This is especially true if you complain to other people or gossip about the person’s behavior.
One of the mistakes people often make is that they wait to speak up until they’re furious. Anger propels them past their conflict avoidance but leads to hostile criticism rather than constructive feedback. If conflict makes you anxious, then set a deadline for yourself to share your concerns, and remind yourself that you are nurturing the relationship by not allowing your resentment to fester.
Before the feedback conversation, make time to reflect. Consider the following:
- come up with your favorite memory of connecting with this person
- clarify what the bothersome behavior is
- identify how this behavior impacts you and how it strains the connection
- reflect upon why this relationship matters to you
- think through and maybe even write down how you can share this feedback with gentle firmness
Also remember that giving positive feedback is crucial for healthy relationships. Expressing your gratitude to coworkers, friends and family strengthens these connections while also improving your emotional wellbeing. Make sure your expressions of appreciation outnumber your constructive feedback.
To receive feedback effectively, especially when it’s delivered critically, you need to cultivate strong self-soothing and listening skills.
The first step to receiving criticism effectively is becoming aware of your defensiveness. This is a natural reaction – your body tightens up, and your mind focuses on deflecting the feedback. Defensive sentences often start with “Yes but you . . .” or “That’s not what I meant.” Notice how your thoughts push away the input coming your way. You might be blameless, but the relationship will be strained further if you mount your defense immediately. The key to repairing the relationship is to listen, even if you don’t like what you hear. Focus on calming your body by exhaling deeply and keeping your inner defense attorney seated until the prosecutor is finished.
Listen carefully to the feedback, then rephrase it in your own words. You may notice the person relax with just being heard. If you can see their point and want to apologize, offer a sincere amends. (Click here for more about how to apologize.)
If the person offering feedback continues to pile on criticism once you’ve done your best to listen, ask to pause and set another time to discuss the other items. Be aware that this person has probably waited too long to bring up their frustrations, and now it’s all coming out in a litany. Managing your defensiveness is especially important here, but you don’t need to subject yourself to being berated. Ask this person to take the steps outlined above before sharing more information with you.
Some people also find it difficult to receive positive feedback. If you squirm when people offer you compliments, work on accepting them graciously. Instead of deflecting kind comments, just say “thank you.” Allow yourself to absorb positive feedback and be open to constructive input to help you be at your best and keep your relationships strong.