Feedback. I remember early in my career during a performance review, my then supervisor told me I wasn’t very good at receiving feedback. He said I got defensive. I remember that moment with a lot of clarity -like it was yesterday. At the time, I didn’t really appreciate what he was sharing with me. As you might imagine I got defensive! But what I have realized in the years since that performance review is that my boss was being honest with me, delivering the message in an openhearted way, and was trying to help me grow into my best self. We ALL need feedback. We need to give and receive feedback in all of our relationships in order to thrive and build security.
I don’t know about you but when I hear the word feedback I automatically think it’s about someone telling me about something I’ve done wrong. Sort of like the proverbial comment “we need to talk”. We instantly think about the negative. Really, feedback is about how another person experiences us or being in relationship with us. We want our partner to know what we need, what works for us, and what doesn’t work for us. It is difficult to give feedback in a way that promotes a loving and secure relationship. You may be worried about hurting your partner’s feelings or you may be worried about whether or not you can live with this behavior, but facilitating a healthy dialogue about our needs is well worth the effort.
Feedback includes what could be improved to enhance the relationship as well as what is currently going well in the relationship. First let’s make a few distinctions, between requests and demands. We want to move away from demands and lean toward requests when giving feedback.
Requests vs. Demands
So you have some things in mind on how your relationship could be improved and you are ready to give your partner some feedback. How we give feedback is crucial to how our partner receives it. In addition to considering voice tone, body language, and facial expressions, we want to also consider the words we are using. Demands are typically an insistent order, an ultimatum, putting pressure on someone, or dictating. You will do this…or else! Requests on the other hand are a way of politely asking for something. Requests are typically delivered in a question. For example, “will you consider…?”
Often times we aren’t sure how to communicate to our partner that we would like something to be different. We can only see what we don’t like. “you always interrupt me – you never let me finish my sentence!” Here are a couple of examples that I see in my office and that I have dealt with in my own relationships. I give two examples of feedback. The first example is what a demand looks like. The second example is giving feedback through a request.
Demand: “Stop interrupting me!”
Request: “I notice that when I am telling you something, you are talking at the same time. It is hard for me to finish what I am saying. Could you let me finish what I am saying before you start talking?”
Demand: “Stop looking at me like that.”
Request: When I see this look on your face, I automatically go to this place thinking you are upset with me. I feel myself shutting down. I want to be able to talk this out without shutting down. It’s hard for me to share with you when I feel like you are upset with me. Can you tell me what is happening with you when you have that look on your face?
Giving Positive Feedback
You are most likely to give feedback when you are working through something challenging. However, I encourage couples to also give feedback as a regular part of their communication process. We all like to get feedback in areas we are doing well in, but sometimes we forget to share this positive feedback with our partner. A sincere compliment can go a long way in making your partner feel valued and loved.
For example, “I really like the way you hold my hand when we are walking into the restaurant it makes me feel secure” is a great way to show your appreciation for how your partner makes you feel important.
Or something like “I really like how patient you are with me when I am having a bad day. You just let me talk about it and it is so helpful” can really help let your partner know what you need and want.
Feedback is not just about the negative and it holds the potential to be a great way for couples to improve their communication skills. Initiating a feedback conversation from your viewpoint is a very effective way to build an environment where safe communication can grow.
Giving effective feedback takes practice. Ask your partner if they want to play a little bit and answer these two questions:
- Over the past week or so, think about what kind of partner you have been. Then complete this sentence: What I think I’m doing well in our relationship is ___________________________ and what I think I could do better is_________________________ .
- Over the past week or so, think about your partner. Then complete this sentence: What I think you are doing well in our relationship is_________________________________________ and what I would love to see more of is__________________________________________.
- Now ask your partner to complete the sentences and share this with each other.
There may be a tendency to jump past the things that are going well to the areas that need improvement or have been damaged. Resist this urge. Think about building a muscle or building a new habit. One work out at a time, or one interaction at a time. We want to nurture and support movement in the right direction. Encouragement goes a long way to building capacity for change and growing your relationship into the secure one you long for. Contact me, Dr Lee LeGrice at 817-307-8725 if you’d like more help in learning how to give and/or receive effective feedback.