Dishing It Out

How to give feedback, express your opinions and understand another person's point of view.

By Lybi Ma, published on January 7, 2004 - last reviewed on September 21, 2006

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.

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."