Authentic respectful communication is the cornerstone in all relationships. This includes family, friends, partners, lovers, people at work, etc. The more open and vulnerable we are in relationships, the deeper the connection, and the safer it is for the other to open up and share on a real and authentic level.
The result is cleaner relationships with less baggage and increased presence in the moment. Personally, I have found that being totally present and authentic with another human being enhances trust and facilitates healthier requests of one another. In addition, practicing and integrating the skill of giving and receiving feedback in all of our relationships creates an unwavering foundation of healthy and respectful communications. And, it is through effective objective feedback that we grow by uncovering hidden aspects of ourselves and others. Now, let’s explore some criteria for powerful feedback.
The first rule of thumb to remember is feedback is best received when solicited, rather than imposed. Make sure to ask permission before proceeding with your feedback. Typically people do not like advice, especially when they haven’t asked for it. I usually say something like this, “Are you open to receiving some feedback?” This way if they say yes, they are welcoming me. If they say no, I leave it alone for another time, as they may not be in the space to receive it. Gain agreement all the time!
Another useful guideline is to make your feedback specific as opposed to being too general. General comments tend to put people on the defensive because they have no point of reference from past behavior that they can recall upon. When we share a specific incident where the behavior occurred and we get agreement that the other person remembers the event, then we are both operating from a specific shared incident. For example, don’t say “You’re always late!” Instead, be specific and say, “I want to talk with you about missing the first song at the concert we attended last night due to you having been 30 minutes late in picking me up.”
A third important rule is to take into account the needs of both the receiver and giver of feedback. This one is pretty self explanatory. Practice mutual respect and boundaries. Make sure you are both in a place where the feedback can be heard, received, and processed without infringing upon one another in any way. Also be sure you are each free of any other distractions in order to facilitate the best talking and listening atmosphere.
Fourthly, make sure your feedback is directed toward behavior which the receiver can do something about. Some of us have deeper perceived shortcomings or fears that are much harder to overcome. Make sure the focus is on some type of behavior the person can change. For example don’t say, “You really should do something about your nose.” This is not healthy feedback and is not directed toward behavior.
The fifth suggestion is to make sure your feedback is descriptive, rather than evaluative. It’s important to leave all judgment out of feedback. For example, rather than telling someone that they yell at you, it may be more effective saying, “I’m not comfortable when you raise your voice.” Yelling is evaluative; raising your voice is descriptive.
It’s also important for the feedback to be well timed. I usually recommend that we bring up stuff that happens in relationships within one week before the information gets fuzzier or just ignored all together. Most arguments stem from unresolved and incomplete experiences from the past. These start to get stored in our back pocket and are projected later on when something more minor occurs. Keeping relationships clean means sharing our thoughts and feelings in a continuous, timely, and respectful manner, so we are present in relationships, free of baggage.
And lastly, mirroring is a powerful way to check and ensure clear communication. Rephrasing and reflecting back to a person like, “If I understand you correctly, what you are saying is…,” will ensure you are both on the same page with the interpretation of the information. I have had innumerous experiences working with couples where one person says something and the other person hears something completely different. There is no right or wrong here. We all have different perceptions and experiences, and they spill over into all of our communications if we are not vigilant with reflective listening. I have witnessed relationships transforming over this one learned skill!
So there you have it; seven useful tools to enhance your communication in relationships, all relationships! As these guidelines become an integrated part of your unwavering foundation, you will witness transformation in your relationships. Authentic and respectful communication starts with taking the charge out of “being right.” Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? We certainly can’t have both. To be right means the other has to be wrong. And nobody wants to be wrong, especially with somebody they care about. So, practice these skills and remember, we are all whole, complete, and perfect. Sometimes, we just forget. Incorporate these seven feedback suggestions and we all will experience a humility that reminds us how disempowering it is to be right. It is MORE empowering for all participants in the feedback conversation to have been heard and a common ground to be found on which to stand together as one. Remember, authenticity and vulnerability makes it possible for others to do the same. WOW! Now that’s one powerful unwavering foundation for authentic communication and stunningly workable relationships!