I was sitting in our yard one day when my seven-year-old son came out of the house and sat down beside me. I kept looking at his face, thinking that something looked different. Then I realized he’d shaved off his eyebrows. And I was really at a loss for what to say to someone who prefers not to wear eyebrows.
Gifting feedback means knowing how to talk to people in a way that they can hear, while remembering that people don’t hear the answer to a question they didn’t ask.
- The first step is to gain the other person’s permission before going forward.
- The next step is to identify only the facts of the situation and what occurs as a result. “I’ve observed that this happens, and this is the result.” It means delivering accurate and objective information without judgment or vested interest. Attempting to obligate people – by saying, “I need for you to do this,” or “You ought to do that,” – doesn’t work, because the advice is based on our needs instead of theirs.
- The next step is to explore alternatives. “What’s the result that you would prefer? What could you do to produce that? And what could I do to help?”
- The final step is to thank the person for his or her effort and willingness to create change.
The beauty of this tool is that no one makes anyone wrong. And it’s solution-oriented, rather than leaving the person hanging out there feeling wrong, discouraged and alone.
Getting feedback also has steps to follow. A couple years after the eyebrow-shaving incident, my son wanted to get a tattoo of a lightening bolt. I said No. And then we found a compromise. He decided a lightening bolt shaved above his hairline would also work. So off we went to the hairdresser. Afterwards, almost everyone who saw him made fun of him by asking why he had a Z on the back of his head. And he learned about living with the consequences of his choices.
When we’re receiving feedback from other people, it’s important to remember that what they say is based on their beliefs and interpretations. Even so, there’s always something to be heard, though it takes a strong sense of self and personal value to listen well.
The people best qualified to give us helpful feedback are the ones who know us best. And that’s usually our partners, parents and siblings, and especially our children, because they’ll give us the least colored truth if they feel safe to do it.
- The first step is to acknowledge that feedback can be helpful and then ask someone who knows us well, “What do you see me doing that is not helping me?”
- The next step is to stay calm and listen without defending or justifying. Choosing someone who cares about us sets up a safe environment where we can let go our fears about what might be said.
- The next step is to understand what the person says, through empathy rather than logic. We understand people best when we don’t become sidetracked by their words. Then we listen beyond what they say, to why they say it.
- The next step is to thank the person. Whether or not the information is valid, the person’s willingness and effort earns our gratitude and praise.
- The final step is to decide what to do with what’s been given. In the end, feedback causes us to rely on our intuition. What will we do with the information? Have we heard it before? Does it ring true? Does it motivate us to act? What’s our next step going to be?
Being able to give and receive feedback effectively takes a balance of caring deeply about people, while not placing too much value on how they express themselves.
My son with the Z and the missing eyebrows expressed both, as he grew older. He managed to not react to the criticism from his peers when his high school principle sent him home for wearing a self-made skirt to school. And following graduation, he trekked off to Ethiopia as a volunteer, digging water wells in remote villages. It was a nice combination of not caring too much about what other people think, while caring deeply about how others feel.
That’s what it means to give and get feedback effectively. Caring enough about ourselves to look for positive input in whatever we receive. And caring enough about other people to offer support to them in ways that can be received, by communicating in ways that can be heard.
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