Giving and receiving feedback

My training as a director included a lot of time around the practice of giving and receiving feedback, which can often come in the form of criticism. It seems, especially in creative situations, people feel compelled, almost as if by some unspoken calling or duty to give their opinion about another person’s choices. I think we often short change ourselves and each other by turning the opportunity to give and share feedback into a judging session, rather than communicating how the work made us feel – which is immensely more helpful to the artist/designer/writer, etc.

I see this happen in a number of personal situations and conversations as well. When the communication is from a place of he said, she said or I did this, you did that, it seems to quickly turn into a defense driven quagmire. Conversations from a defensive place lead to a series of you should or you need to statements. Rather than understanding how the other person feels or was made to feel, the focus seems to be around deflecting responsibility or pushing one person’s ideas or beliefs as truth, while the other person in turn resists and goes into self-preservation or protection mode. Also known as nowhere – an impasse.

Through my recent surge of personal development reading I’ve been giving this idea of “giving and receiving feedback” a lot of thought. How can I apply the same philosophy I use in sharing feedback about creative work into difficult conversations and situations whether it be with friends, colleagues or family? If we focus more on how any given situation or behavior made us feel, rather than making statements about what we think the other person should have said or done, I wonder if the conversation would immediately be infused with greater empathy and understanding on both sides. By sharing our feelings it feels less judgey and allows a little more vulnerability into the conversation which often keeps defenses down.

I feel like I have a good handle on this practice when it comes to professional settings, specifically when speaking about creative work. When it comes to interpersonal relationships, in the workplace and in life, I need to work on it.

I know that I can tend to make assumptions around how a difficult conversation will go based on observations of the other person, their behavior, body language, perceived mood, reactions to similar topics with others, and so on. Unfortunately, this leads to avoidance. But, if I focus on sharing how something made me feel versus simply a recounting of the actions within the situation, perhaps the conversation will be fruitful and progress will be made. I’m going to try it out, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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