Dishing It Out

Giving feedback is something most of us avoid. Remember when your partner inquired about your level of satisfaction in bed, and you tried to change the topic of conversation: "How about taupe colored curtains, honey?" But it never pays to ignore a problem; it'll just come back to haunt you.

Feedback is an essential part of a relationship, be it in the bedroom or in the boardroom. In fact, it's critical for the survival of any relationship; in turn, it directly affects your motivation, self-esteem and productivity in life.

Expressing your opinion is necessary; if you don't, you run the risk of ruining your relationship. Yet giving negative feedback can be just as detrimental. Therefore, the key is being sensitive to your partner's feelings and communicating your views clearly. Here's how you can start:

Talk about the problem at hand. It may be painful, but you have to start somewhere. Ask your partner for his or her view. After that you must understand your partner's view while making yours clear as well. Now you can prepare a strategy for resolving the problem. Follow up on the problem at a later time.

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With these principles in mind, there are particular factors to exercise when giving constructive feedback. For example, being specific, timely and balanced are all crucial points in delivering criticism. "Give a direct concrete clue to what you want. 'I would prefer that you do X.' Otherwise the person can only guess, and no one can read minds," says Marie Van Tubbergen, a clinical psychologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

When giving feedback, remember to:

• Don't hold back. Never ignore a problem, it will only get bigger. Addressing a situation immediately will alleviate future difficulty.

• Gather your thoughts. Thinking through your comments will help you communicate clearly. If it helps, write it down beforehand.

• Focus on the problem at hand, not the person. If it was a behavior or action that bothered you, then discuss it not him or her.

• Don't make assumptions. We often assume the other person is on the same page and will easily understand what we are saying. Making assumptions can lead to vague feedback.

• Be specific. Fuzzy criticism will leave the other person confused.

• Be balanced. When giving negative feedback, don't forget the other person's positive points. This balance will boost self-esteem and motivate the person to change course based on the feedback.

• Give feedback frequently. If you give feedback often, it will undoubtedly be positive. Frequent feedback makes the occasional negative criticism no big issue.

• Keep it private. Give feedback in private and not in front of your children, coworkers or others. If it's hard to find the right time or place to talk, make an appointment if necessary.

• Revisit your feedback. Don't expect to solve the problem in one shot.

Now you're prepared to give your feedback. Just remember to be relaxed and thoughtful. "People get angry and upset," says Van Tubbergen. "Try to present the information when you are calm and centered."

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