Feedback: Go Ahead, I Can Take It

Learning to handle criticism is a skill in itself. Avoid being emotional, seek regular feedback, be flexible and stay away from aggression.

By Lybi Ma, published on February 1, 2004 - last reviewed on April 6, 2006

No one wants to hear criticism. "Who me? I'm
perfect." Yet getting feedback is necessary in all relationships.
If your partner needs to share his feelings about the way you interact,
like it or not, you'll have to hear him out. We know it's
hard. In fact, giving and getting feedback can feel like you're
waging war.

Yet it doesn't have to be that way. "Realize that the
other person is not out to hurt you," says Robert Markman, a
clinical psychologist in Morganton, North Carolina. "The feedback
is coming from a friend, not an enemy."

To receive feedback efficiently, one must first learn how to
listen. Sharpening your listening skills can deescalate potential
conflict and avoid misunderstandings. Because "anything a person
says can be taken 40 different ways," says Markman.

By hearing what the other person has to say, you stand a better
chance of understanding the issue. This thoughtful approach opens the way
to an exchange of views; it will also help the giver and the receiver
agree on a plan of action. Later, revisit the plan to make sure the issue
has been resolved.

When you sit down to discuss the feedback, keep these pointers in
mind:

• Ask open-ended questions. Questions that begin with the
words "tell me," "how do," or "why"
encourage the other person to be specific. Also, they lessen the chance
of your partner shutting down.

• Avoid being emotional. Allow yourself to remain calm and
thoughtful. Think before you respond, otherwise you risk being
rash.

• Summarize what he is saying. A review of the feedback will
clarify his view as well as help you understand what he is saying.

• Ask to receive your feedback in private. The issue is
between you and the other person; the whole world need not listen.

• Seek regular feedback. If feedback is given often,
communication will be continuous. This approach leaves less room for
surprises.

Receiving feedback may also call for negotiation skills. You may
not agree with your partner; in fact you may see everything quite
differently. So remember to:

• Avoid being aggressive, sarcastic or confrontational. These
behaviors breed opposition. In fact, show empathy to the feedback giver,
because it isn't easy from her position either.

• Point out the areas where you agree with the other person.
This will generate a feeling of cooperation.

• Don't be rigid and attached to your point of view.
Being open-minded to different outcomes is far more productive.

• Don't fall into the "defend and attack"
trap: Bill: "You need to be less rigid." Jane:
"You're the one who's inflexible." Bill: "I
am not." Instead, ask an open-ended question: Bill: "You need
to be less rigid." Jane: "Tell me why you're not happy
with my decision."

OK, everyone does it: couples can't help but point fingers at
each other. So it's important to step back and take a personal
accounting. When there is an issue, understand and work on yourself
first. How do you see the problem at hand? Once this happens, you will
find that there will be much less finger pointing and much more
cooperation. Says Markman: "You need to know that the hurt is
between you and you, not the other person."