Are you getting the feedback you need? Here are the 3 forms of feedback and how they differ from one another

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By UB therapist Michael Maloney, LCPC

Often when there is conflict in relationships people say there is a communication issue.  What people are looking for is not always what they recieve. When you approach people you usually have a motive or an intent of what you are looking for.  When people don’t meet those needs we feel misunderstood. Others may have misinterpreted out motives and don’t understand the impact they had on us. Let’s look at a few examples.  

Leslie is feeling stuck in her role at work.  She feels like she has been passed up for job advancements many times.  She believes has applied herself but something makes her bosses overlook her every time.  Her coworker Anna got promoted last month and Leslie has been with the company far longer than Anna had been.   She goes to her boss Tina to find out if there are ways to improve herself so she can move up in the company. Tina hears Leslie’s concerns and reassures her that her work has been great and that they value her as an employee.  Tina then thanks Leslie for bringing the issue up and that her door is always open. Leslie leaves confused and a little angry that Tina didn’t give her any advice.

David and Julie have been dating for 3 weeks.  David is nervous in how things are going. His previous relationship ended badly and his ex-girlfriend had checked out of the relationship long before they broke up.  David is worried Julie might not be that into him, but he really likes her. He brings up his concerns about their relationship and his past relationship. Julie nods her head and smiles back at him.  Julie then says it sounds like his past relationship really wasn’t what he was looking for. David feels that Julie avoided his question and now worried that she isn’t into him.

Tom is having a rough day at work.  Actually it has been a rough month at work and everyone is stressed.  He is angry at his boss for not listening to his concerns, or even bothering to respond to his emails.  He is also angry at one of his coworkers that is always saying bad things about him. He comes home one day feeling exhausted and tells his wife, Karen, about all the horrible things that happened today.  Karen listens and then tells Tom not to take things so seriously. Everyone there is stressed out now and his boss doesn’t have time to respond as quickly as Tom would like. Karen points out that Tom is very impatient and often gets in a lot of arguments.  She suggests maybe that was why his coworker was complaining about him. Tom is taken aback by Karen’s statements and stomped out of the room and feels that even his wife is against him now.

All these people were looking for different forms of feedback.  None of them got what they were looking for. When this happens people feel unheard and disconnected from the person they were talking to.  They feel out of sync with the other person. The person giving the feedback in all the above scenarios thought they were helping the other person.  They all had good motives, but their impact they left, on the person receiving the feedback, left a negative impact.

What are the different forms of Feedback?  Let’s look at the three most common ones:

Critical Critique

Critical Critiques are probably what most of use think about when we think of the word ‘Feedback.’  It is the areas that we can improve on, but also what we are doing right. In the workplace, most people go through a performance review on where they have seen improvement and areas where the individual can still develop better skills.  Critique or criticism is often hard to take, but it helps us learn in areas we can grown in. Critiques help us become better employees, more nurturing partners, and more reliable friends. The more we know our strength and faults, the more we can keep growing.  

Leslie was looking for some critiques to find out how she could improve herself and make herself more marketable.  Instead Tina gave her a Status Update in which the company valued her and she was doing good work. What might have helped Leslie was that Tina share how she doesn’t see Leslie take on new tasks when she finishes early and doesn’t volunteer to go to networking events like Anna did.  These are things Leslie can change to impress her bosses.

Status Update

Status Updates are basically asking for where we are at.  These are the things that make sure whe are on the same page as other people.  We want to know the financial status of our company to make sure we want to stay they or if we should be looking for a new job.  We want to know if we are on good terms with others because if we are not we need to make sure to address what is wrong. A partner or friend might look upset, but they might also be confused.  We need to know their emotional status to figure out what kind of help the need.

David was looking for a relationship status update from Julie.  Instead Julie gave Validation that David’s previous relationship was rough.  Julie could have shared that she also got out of a bad relationship and wants to take it slow, but really feels David understands her.  David might be a little further into the relationship than she might be, but he would be relieved to hear that she is thinking about it.

Validation

Often when we approach people with our issues we want them just to listen.  People often need space to vent and get out their frustrations. We also want people to acknowledge or Validate the issues we are going through.  It may seem like some daunting issue like a parent with alzheimers, job transition that is causing a lot of stress, or a situation that was really embarrassing, but often the other person is NOT looking for someone to fix their problems;  People want others to listen and legitimize their experiences.

Tom wanted to vent and to receive validation about work being stressful.  Karen thought he was looking for a Critique in how to get out of the situations or adjust his expectations.  Karen thought Tom was taking on more stress by expecting his boss to be so quick to respond. Some of her advice might have been helpful but Tom wasn’t in the space to hear it because he wanted someone to validate his experiences.  Karen could listen and say that is sounds like work is really stressful. It wouldn’t change any facts, but Tom would feel heard.

It is easy to misread what another person want.  We all have our own motives and agendas but we are clueless of the impact our actions have one people.  Similarly other people know the impact of our actions but have no awareness of our motives. Sharing these can help.  

When asking for feedback, it helps to clarify what you are looking for.  If you do not feel heard then make sure you share what your agenda for the request was intended for.  Share what you are looking for. For example, Leslie might have been very confused leaving Tina’s office.  She didn’t get any answers and she still didn’t have any goals to work on. Leslie could go back to Tina and tell her she is looking for areas to improve herself.  She could also email Leslie to help make her wants more clear as the are written down.

Asking for these things requires some vulnerability.  It is okay to share that you might feel hurt of disconnected from the other person, but you have to make sure you feel ready for that.  David felt exposed asking Julie how she felt about the relationship, but felt like she was avoiding the question when he got her response.  “I” statements can help share what is going on internally for the person. David could say “I feel like you are avoiding the question I just asked.”  If David said “You are avoiding the question I just asked,” then Julie might become defensive and they could then get in a fight. But the “I” statement helps share what is going on for David.

If you are the one giving the feedback and the other person gets upset, check in with them.  They may push away but you can apologize for misinterpreting the question. If you can read some of the nonverbal cues that someone might be upset it may help to check in with them.  Karen could be taken aback when Tom stomped out of the room. She could then approach him and share her motive of trying to be helpful. She could then ask how can she help him and figure out what he was looking for.  

Share these labels with others to help make sure the type of feedback you are looking for is the one you recieve.  These are often difficult skills to build. If you try them, give yourself space to make mistakes. It can be challenging so make sure to allow room for feedback, in whatever form you need.