When we live with another human in our surrounding, is it then good to occasionally tell each other how we perceive each other? It could be a good way to do a clean up in the relationship so that we avoid things building up and later creates a big argument or a conflict.

It can also be a way to show love, a way to acknowledge each other, "I see that you are there, I experience something when I am with you and I care enough about you to tell you what I experience".

What we call feedback; another word would be re-connecting or maybe mirroring, is a perfect way to communicate with each other to strengthen a relationship on every level. It is this feedback that this text is about.

Feedback is a gift, a gift of affirmation and attention. It is a gift that I give someone in purpose to develop that person and the relationship between us. If I give the feedback in any other purpose it isn't effective feedback we are talking about but rather an attempt to argue my own position or hide my own shortcomings. It is also the most intensive communication that us people can engage in.

A story from Africa

There is a tribe in Africa that hasn't got the worst punishment in style with prisons or death penalties. The worst punishment they judge you to if you have broken any of their laws is that you have to stay in the village, but, and it is a big but, no one will talk to you, no one will look at you. No one will even pretend that you exist. It is their worst punishment. People who get treated with this punishment will after a while often get sick in the lack of human acknowledgement or they might even die.

There are unfortunately a lot of relationships in homes, work places and in other situations where you more or less unconsciously have sentenced each other to this punishment. In a jumble of stress and other things we forget to see each other as people.

Make sure your feedback comes from a loving place

To give the gift that we call feedback is about love. I should note that my feedback, therefore, are loving. In order for it to really aim to develop the other person it should also be thoroughly thought through. Finally, I should also consider whether the feedback is necessary or if it is just a way for me to get my feelings out.

It can sometimes wake fear to give or receive feedback. Fear to hurt someone if I am going to say something that has made me angry or annoyed me for example. Although, most of the time it is about the fear to be hurt yourself.

To see people and develop relationships

Hjalmar Söderberg wrote in "Doctor Glass" year 1905 the following: 'One wants to be loved, failing that admired, failing that hated and despised. You want to dedicate people in to some sort of feeling, the soul shudders of emptiness and wants contact to any cost'

Feedback is the most effective tool to develop relationships. It will beat most things, that is, if it is being used in a good way. It is often better to give some form of feedback than to not give anything at all.

It is not about judging

Effective feedback is a mirroring of someone else's behavior; it isn't about me telling how that person is or to judge her.
We don't need an extra mum or dad that tells us how we are or not, or to give us order in how to be. If I give feedback that judges other people, it is more about my need to be a "know-how" or to control the other person.

Sometimes we keep a lot off feedback inside. You can see it as I choose to have an inner conflict that might eat me from the inside, about if I should dare to say something or not or about how I should handle my feelings, or I can take the risk/chance to share and then possibly make it to a conflict that we can handle together and that can develop our relationship.

Markus: I think that the following example can be a clear way to say how crazy it can be when we forget to confirm each other. Some time ago I was sitting on the train one morning, reading a short article in the paper that was describing a man who had spent almost three years in prison.

When he had about two months left to release date he participated in an attempt to escape prison. They managed to get past the first wall but got captured and caught, literately speaking, by the guards before they managed to get past the second wall.

In court he was put in front of a questioning judge that asked him why he had made such a dumb decision to participate in an attempt to escape when he only had two more months to go of his sentence and then he would be completely free. The man answered, when the guard captured him out there between the two walls it was the first time during the three years that he had had confirmation that he existed as a person.

He continued explaining that it was worth escaping just to experience this feeling again. How often does people in your surrounding have to stage an escape, in a symbolic sense, for you to see them? Or maybe, how often have you had to do it yourself?

Filippa: People often ask about feedback/confirmation in various ways, for example"Do these pants fit well?", "oh what a big bum I have", "I just need to wash my hair before we leave". Often it comes as a claim even though it really is a question, often we just automatically reply. "You're hair looks great; you don't need to wash it".

We can hear on the tone that the person is a bit unsure whether you think it is dirty or ok. Us women are specialists in wrapping things and then get disappointed because we're not getting what we wanted. When I do this my partner normally asks me what I mean and I then get to say if I have decided that to wash my hair before we leave or if I want his opinion on how the hair looks.

Today I am much clearer with what I want since I know that I otherwise will have to make myself clear anyway. I notice now that there are less miscommunications and frustration and the communication is a lot smother.

Some tips for giving feedback

A few tips to consider when you want to give someone feedback is:

  • give it in a way that the person in question can affect (that is, behavior)
  • be specific (avoid for example "I quite often get annoyed with you")
  • at the right time and in the right volume (avoid to build up a mountain of rights and wrongs, spread them out)
  • to the person it affects (we easily talk about the person instead of to them)
  • preferably when there is a wish in the other person about receiving

Make sure to create space for a dialogue, give the receiver the possibility to ask questions and clarify the feedback together.

Keep it simple and frequent

Don't let the feedback become something overly complicated that makes you having to think several times before you give it. Strive instead to make it a common part of your daily life in your relationships.

If we clean up the relationship intermittently by giving feedback, we will quite often avoid the huge conflicts that are built on the foundation of months of irritation and frustration. Communication keeps a relationship alive and feedback is as we previously mentioned a perfect and intense communication tool.

I-statements

A very effective model of giving effective feedback is the so called I-statement. An I-statement can have the below parts:

  • Behavior (what the person did/do that I would like to give feedback on
  • Feeling (with which emotion did I react on this behavior)
  • Consequence (what consequence will the above have on our relationship)
  • Alternative (what behavior would I rather see)

I-statement

You can resemble an I-message to a jigsaw puzzle. The more pieces you can put together the clearer what you are trying to say becomes.

For example:"When you drive that fast I become scared which makes me not wanting to go with you anymore. I would rather you slowed down a bit in the curves".

The Feedback Staircase

We have now spoken about one part of the effective feedback, the giving. The second part is that someone, or myself, is in fact receiving that feedback. The below image, what we call the stair of feedback, describes varies responses by the person who is receiving feedback.

Feedback Staircase

Some examples on replies that can come on the respective step of the stairs:

  • Change – "I take it to me and I am willing to change my behavior"
  • Remain- "I have understood your feedback and I choose to keep acting as before"
  • Understand – "I understand what you mean, thank you" (this often also includes questions to clarify the feedback)
  • Explain – "Yes, but that was because..., this is what happened..."
  • Defend – "No, that's not at all how it was, that's not what happened"
  • Deny - "This doesn't concern me, I don't take on any feedback, I'm ignoring this"

Markus: I have in my own relationships and mostly in my work with groups noticed a big difference in the presence that occur in a relationship when someone manage to take the feedback on without letting fear control it.

It is like both persons can exhale and meet as people.

The first initial response

So it is about the person's first initial response to the feedback, it is about striving to turn off the response I have playing in my head when someone is giving me feedback.

The lower steps on the stair to feedback isn't just about seeing it as something evil that will deprive our communication, we should also see them in the positive intention to a psychological defense that is there to protects us against being exposed to more than we can handle. It can however become an obstacle to close and trusting relationships that I have with others if I always respond fiercely to feedback.

In conclusion

To finish off, it is with feedback as it is with love. If you are not getting enough then give a little bit more! Another bonus with gift of feedback is that it is not costing you any money. So what is needed for you to start giving more gifts of human confirmation when you have finished this sentence?

When did you last give your loved one, your friend, colleague or another close person a gift in the shape of effective feedback? When did you last confirm the depth of another person in this way?

Homework assignment

Decide that you in the coming month will practice on giving feedback once a day to your life companion, friend or another close person. Let it be about little things to start with and then get more adventurous later on in the week. Take a moment every night during the month before you fall asleep and reflect over how you experienced today's feedback and what respond you received from the other person.


Couple with laptop studying relationships