My Favorite Ways to Give and Receive Feedback

“Hey, your shop is disgusting! Why don’t you clean it up?!” This is not my favorite way to give feedback.

My Favorite Ways to Give and Receive Feedback

Giving and receiving feedback is a touchy issue for many of us. We all know the benefits of getting good feedback and having more eyes on how we can improve. But egos get in the way and lots of times valuable feedback becomes either a cause for argument or is avoided completely.

The reason is simple. The facts and the emotional interpretations get all mixed up with feedback. Here’s what I mean.

Someone once told me that I needed more work on my writing, specifically that I was making my stories overly dramatic. This was actually useful feedback. But my emotional interpretation was that “I’m a terrible writer. And I should never write again.” 

Unable To Receive Feedback

Because of my emotional interpretation, I was unable to receive the feedback and make use of it constructively. Instead, I rebelled against it. I was defensive. And I stubbornly adhered to my way of writing until some point when I “forced myself” to comply with the feedback given, resenting it all the way. This is pure emotion. 

But emotion is always connected with thinking. When I identify the thought connected to the emotion, I can question my thinking and free up the emotion. A systematic way to do this is called The Work of Byron Katie (4 questions and turnarounds)

By questioning the thought, “I’m a terrible writer,” I could move through the emotional interpretation I created for myself and see things in a more balanced way. It became possible for me to see that I am actually a good writer but I may be using too much drama. Then it’s just a small adjustment, and very welcome too.

The Other Person's Delivery

In addition to the wounded ego’s emotional interpretation mentioned above, there is another place where emotions get in the way of receiving feedback. This happens when the person delivering the feedback is coming from an emotional place themselves, for example, angry or impatient, or condescending. 

When the recipient hears the tone of voice coming with this feedback, he or she again resists. But this time the resistance comes from beliefs about the giver. For example, “He doesn’t like me. I must do what he says. I’m never good enough for him. And he has no right to judge me.

When these thoughts are questioned, the actual feedback can be separated from the poor delivery (due to the other person’s emotional state). This takes a lot of stillness to do, but it is a skill that can be cultured through doing The Work of Byron Katie. I am 1000 times better at it today than I was in 2007 when I started The Work.

The result is that I can hear negative feedback full of emotion and judgment coming from the other person and, more often than not, I can see two independent things: 1) someone having a hard time emotionally 2) some possibly useful feedback for me which I will evaluate for myself on my own terms later. 

Instead of rejecting both the possibly useful feedback and the person giving it. I can often find compassion for the giver who’s dealing with some emotion of their own. And I can receive the feedback as a simple possibility for me to consider—not a threat to my ego.

How I Like To Give Feedback

When I’m on the other side of giving feedback, I also use The Work of Byron Katie. To be a more effective communicator, I like to separate my own emotional charge (if there is any) from the feedback I’m giving. 

Usually, I want to give feedback because something annoys me. But that feeling of annoyance will color the way I actually deliver the feedback. I will be making it hard for the recipient to separate my emotion from my useful tip. So I like to separate the emotions and the feedback myself beforehand. This makes the feedback pre-digested for the other person.

I do this by questioning my feedback directly. If I think “He should clean up his shop,” I go through the four questions and turnarounds of The Work first. I let my emotions rail against his untidiness first on paper. It is very satisfying. And I work through them with the questions and turnarounds. This usually leaves me in a more neutral place where I’m actually okay either way, if he “cleans up his shop” or not. 

Then, from this neutral place, without a charge, when I give feedback, it is simple and free of emotional overtones. I find kind ways to give it. I’m more fearless in giving it. And the other person is often better able to hear it. It simply isn’t a big deal because it’s not a “thing” for me. Delivering feedback is enjoyable when there’s no charge in it for me.

And I may also find after doing my work that I no longer need to deliver the feedback. I wait and see if it would truly serve the other person and if they are open to getting feedback. The tables have turned. If I do give feedback, it is out of consideration for them, not as a way of venting for me. 

Stress Gives You The Clue

The key to doing The Work of Byron Katie is to listen to your stress. It will tell you what to question. I love to question any stressful thought on either side of giving or receiving feedback. I trust the stress to point me where I most need to do my work.

Learn how to deepen this process today.

Let's look at the husband with egg in his beard. You can see him in two ways. First, when you think he's flawed: "Oh God, there he goes with egg in his beard! Hey, stop! You have egg in your beard! What a slob! I don't know what you're thinking of—wash it off! Hurry, you're late! Here, let me do that, you've had your chance. Why do I have to point these things out to you? They'll never give you that job. You can be so frustrating—why did I even marry you? No, stop it, I don't want to kiss you. Just leave me alone and get out of here." The other way is when you know that being flawed is simply not possible: "He's going out the door with egg in his beard. That is so funny—he must be in a big rush, to have missed something so obvious. I'll wipe the egg off for him as I notice a few of the reasons this happened for us, or at least for me. It happened so that I could see his beard in time to save the day, of course. So that we could laugh together as we imagine what the job interview could have looked like with egg in his beard. I get to wipe off the egg for him, and that is warm and dear and funny and intimate. I didn't think I had time to kiss him goodbye and the dried egg made it possible. (Interesting how time opens up when you think there's no time.) And I get the credit for his new job!"