Giving & receiving feedback (pt 4)

That special feeling
With both giving and receiving feedback there are no hard and fast rules for doing it right. Instead, I encourage you to recognise that ‘special feeling’ that arises when the space really opens up between you. We can feel and experience this in different ways, including:

  • a feeling of spaciousness
  • being more relaxed and open in the body
  • a softness or tenderness between you
  • an open feeling (sometimes almost painful) in your chest and/or belly
  • more pauses between speaking and a lack of interruptions
  • a sense of ease in the conversation
  • a feeling of loving and being loved

There are, of course, many other indicators of that special feeling, which is a precious type of intimacy that arises when we share vulnerability together. (For more on this theme, read M Scott Peck’s pioneering book The Different Drum.) Whatever it is that helps you recognise the presence of that kind of openness, that ‘special feeling’, give it space. It’ll really help you when having those difficult conversations, as you’ll know when things are moving in a good direction.

Equally, you can notice the opposites as indicators that things aren’t going so well: each of you rushing to speak, interrupting each other, feeling closed down, the body becoming tighter and so on. If you recognise that there’s a spectrum of feeling, from wide open to totally closed, and see where you are on it at any moment in the conversation, it’ll help a lot with those small adjustments that allow the dialogue to flow and the feedback to land.


Withholding feedback
With all this in mind, you may be asking yourself “why would I go through the difficult and painful process of giving feedback when it’s so hard to do?” It is of course a valid question, though I hope that some of the stuff I’ve already mentioned about intimacy-through-vulnerability and deepening trust should convince you.

If the feedback is positive, it is a huge boost to a relationship to share it. It’s not too difficult (though as I said earlier, giving and receiving positive feedback has its own challenges) and it does a lot of good for friendships, relationships between lovers and partners and within families. And positive feedback breeds more positive feedback – once people see that it’s ok to give compliments and how good it feels (once the initial awkwardness is overcome), it starts to become a flowing fountain of praise. I literally can’t think of a reason why that isn’t a good thing.

Although there are many good reasons to share positive feedback, withholding it isn’t a problem as such. With negative feedback, however, it is amazing how much damage it can do when you withhold it. Negative feedback can often be felt on a subtle level, in the slight tension that arises between people, the way you roll your eyes (even silently or internally) when the person does *that annoying thing you hate* for the 20th time. It creates a tension that’s subtle but ever-present, closing down the space between you and decreasing the amount of openness and intimacy that’s possible.

As this can all be felt, albeit at a subtle level, this gradually decreases the amount of trust between you too. A lot of these dynamics are unsaid but deeply felt. It may be that you simply choose to spend less time with that person, because suddenly (and for no apparent reason) it doesn’t feel as comfortable to be together. Often with sexual partners it shows up as a decrease in sexual attraction and desire – keep doing it and eventually the sex goes away altogether. (From my working with people in this area, withholding seems to be the number one reason that relationships go from passionate to sexless.)

Withholding what you need to say to someone is one of the main reasons that relationships lessen in trust, intimacy and closeness. The way I visualise it, it’s like the negative stuff that you’re holding onto sits between you and pushes you apart. The longer you leave it, the worse it gets – though it’s still better late than never.

Above all, don’t be under the illusion that withholding feedback spares anyone’s feelings. If you care about the person you are not helping them or supporting your friendship by withholding what you feel from them. You are effectively deceiving them, because they think everything’s fine and you are holding negative feelings they’re not aware of. The kindness, most compassionate and most loving thing you can do is to find the courage and share what’s bothering you. It’ll be uncomfortable for a little while but it’ll bring you closer in the end. And the alternative is invariably to grow further apart.

In this article I’ve argued that giving and receiving feedback is one of the most important things you can do in your relationships. I’ve spoken about why it’s important to do it, the benefits of doing it and how to do it. I hope that in sharing my experience with this topic I’ve given you some useful ideas and tools for giving and receiving feedback. I also very much welcome your input and to hear more about your experiences with doing this. If you feel like it, please email me (contact [at] londonfaerie [dot] co [dot] uk) or leave a comment below. All feedback, positive and negative, is most welcomed.

Thank you for reading this article.


One comment

  • DK

    March 15, 2017

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