Psychologically Speaking: Sugar and spice and not so nice

How should you give and receive feedback from others?

clinton shouts 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
clinton shouts 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Is it true that if you have nothing nice to say, you shouldn't say anything at all? If that is so, then how do you give and get feedback from others? I prefer to think of it as you can say just about anything to anyone; it is simply how you choose to say it that matters, and many people need to learn just what to say, when to say it and how to say it. The truth doesn't have to "hurt" and you may not always need to say it with "sugar and spice and everything nice," but at the end of the day, you do "catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." The rather jazzy term "feedback" sounds acceptable enough, especially in the business world, but the word "criticism" - well, it just feels painful and personal. Perhaps it is because feedback makes us think that both our strengths and weaknesses will be addressed, whereas criticism feels anything but constructive and just a bit too close to home. After all, no one really likes to hear their faults. To be effective and not be immediately shut out or off, your message must be delivered in such a way that it is actually heard, listened to and absorbed. Delivered correctly, it can motivate you to make important changes and can be a real blessing. Done poorly, it can be devastating, ruin a relationship and greatly affect your self-esteem. How can one give and get good feedback from family, friend or coworkers? Tips for giving feedback: 1. The first key to good communication is in knowing what message you'd like to send. What would you like to say? What is your goal and what do you want your message to achieve? Are you saying something to be helpful or acting out of hurt, anger or jealousy? Are you being critical because you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed or is there a real issue? Remember, your goal is not to blame and find fault but rather to find solutions. In other words, you need to focus on the issue which needs improvement and not on the person. 2. Be empathetic, calm, polite and clear. We all make mistakes, as no one is perfect. This can be a wonderful learning opportunity. Start by putting yourself in someone else's shoes. Talk to others as you'd like them to talk to you. Will it be helpful to say it? If not, reframe it. 3. Point out the positives. How often do you notice what hasn't been done or what has been done poorly and miss the many things that were done well? Everyone wants to be appreciated and this in itself can help motivate change. 4. After addressing what is going well, address what isn't and look at what you both can do to make it better. Be very specific in terms of your suggestions. Stay "present focused." What can you do now to make the situation better? 5. Remember, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, perspective and ideas. Attacking those of others never helps. While they may see things differently than you, they too may have a point. Be respectful, nonjudgmental and recognize that no matter what you say and how you say it, others may not appreciate what you do or have to say. Tips for getting feedback: 1. Remind yourself that if someone takes the time to give you feedback, it is probably because they have your best interests at heart. Try hard to listen and not anticipate what someone might say. Don't interrupt but take a deep breath, stay calm and stay focused. Have an open mind and try and understand it from their perspective, even if you don't agree with them. 2. Reframe criticism and see it as constructive feedback. This can be very helpful and your challenge is to work with the information and use it to improve yourself and your ways. You have been given an opportunity, so take advantage of it and grow. 3. As difficult as it is, try to be receptive to other ideas rather than attempting to prove someone wrong. Those around you see you differently than you see yourself. If you have "attitude," drop it. There is inherent value in what others have to say. 4. Ask yourself what you could do differently, what changes you could make and what might help. Be open to change and learning. If, however, you are highly self-critical, you may inadvertently be your own worst enemy. If so, you'll need to lighten up and reframe your self-defeating comments. Be aware of when and why you get criticized. Is there a pattern to something you are doing or saying? 5. Be forgiving when someone is giving you feedback. Work at not taking it personally. Staying stuck will create negativity and can destroy what was hopefully a good relationship. Forgiveness can make a good relationship great. Remember, good feedback can result in change and growth as a person. At the end of the day, don't we all want to improve ourselves?n The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana.