Recently I’ve got my hands on one of the best books about giving and receiving feedback. The moment I understood how helpful the subject is for couple therapy, I told myself: it’s a must-read.
When working with couples I’ve identified several recurrent problems when it comes to receiving feedback:
- Partners don’t interpret feedback as feedback. They take it rather as a personal attack. That is indeed because often unfortunately it is expressed like an attack or criticism, and it will take effort to identify the feedback hiding underneath.
- Partners go immediately into resisting and deflecting mode. Hardly any of them take time to listen to their partner until he/she finishes. Instead, they start contradicting with examples of behavior that proves the opposite of feedback or blame the situation they were in.
- The conversation is often derailed into a blaming game. One might start the conversation with the subject that bothers, and the other one would go like “Yeah, but you did this with that occasion…” and thus the feedback remains unattended and unnoticed.
- None of the partners can take a meta-perspective and say: “Wait! What are you trying to say? Let’s go back to what the actual issue is!”
- Almost always there is a gap between the intention one has and the impact on the other person. Sometimes knowing the intention can “soften” the impact, but understanding the impact is very important in avoiding similar experiences in the future.
- Often feedback is felt like an attack on our autonomy and since none of us likes being told what to do, we reject the feedback instantly. When interpreted as a means of control from the partner, there is no way of moving forward.
What we should want instead is to be able to engage in a feedback conversation with confidence and curiosity and even when the feedback is wrong, to find insight that could help us grow.
Why? Because marriage researchers have proven that a person’s willingness and ability to accept influence and input from their partner is the key predictor of a healthy, stable marriage. In contrast, living with someone who shuts out feedback or responds with defensiveness and arguments can be exhausting for the other person.
How to get there? There are some key points that I believe to be important in accepting feedback:
- Understand that your partner has most of the time your best interest in their mind because they care and love you. Being together, your actions and behaviors impact both. So, it is natural that your partner wants to help you become a better person and that would reflect in the quality of your relationship, too.
- Look at feedback with a fair lens: the unpleasant criticism on one side, and the appreciation and support that motivate and encourage us on the other side, when we receive positive feedback. Is hard to have one without the other. But it is bad when the partner only focuses on the negatives and fails to express appreciation.
- Good feedback is pointing to our blind spots which are called like this precisely because we cannot see them. So, especially if you have heard the same feedback before, we can be tanksful for mirroring what we alone cannot see.
- Concentrate on the actual message that is being delivered by summarizing what you understood. Most of the time the feedback is about a behavior, not about your character. And behavior is easier to change.
- You don’t have to accept it all the time. Not all feedback is good. People might perceive us wrong, or their evaluation might be incorrect. Before you reject it though, be sure that you understand what is all about.
In the end, if we are not able to look at and accept feedback when delivered right, we are getting in our own way. Once we get this, we can encourage ourselves to go through those difficult conversations because I guarantee, they feel difficult at the moment, but in the long term, they’ll keep us from repeating the same mistakes over and over.
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