Feedback Part 4: Unsolicited Feedback

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Last week, I wrote about giving positive and not-quite-so-positive feedback (hope that's been going well!) This post is about the hardest feedback of all: unsolicited feedback.In other words, when we really, really want to give someone feedback about something (usually less-than-awesome feedback, otherwise it's a compliment) but they haven't asked for it.It's tricky because often we mean well: we want to do right by our friend and sometimes it can feel like they really, really need to hear this advice. We might feel that, as their friend, it's our duty to give them this feedback. But do they really want to hear it? Is it even our place to give it?Generally, I'm not a fan of unsolicited feedback. That's not to say that we should just hold back until someone asks us what we think about something - not at all. The problem with providing unsolicited feedback based on a certain topic or issue is that it's all too easy to make conclusions about what someone is or isn't doing and give them the feedback based on that without being curious about it first. Not only is that unfair to our friend, but it makes them far less likely to listen to what we have to say... even if we have a good point.So if we have a yearning burning to give someone some unsolicited feedback, what can we do?

1) Ask their permission.

When we're feeling pretty nervous around talking about something, we can feel the need to just blurt it out as quickly as possible.However, it's a good idea to make sure our convo partner actually wants to talk to us about it first.This might look like: 'I've had some feelings come up around a certain issue concerning our friendship lately and I was wondering if it would be OK to talk to you about it?' Otherwise the basis for the conversation becomes 'I'm going to tell you this whether you like it or not.' Ouch.

2) Keep it about you and your feelings and only address issues that are directly relevant to your friendship.

If it's not directly relevant to the friendship, it's not our place to bring it up. For example, if I had a friend who was a bad driver, I wouldn't approach the conversation saying 'Look, you're a bad driver and you really need to sort it out.' Instead, I could either say 'When I'm in the car with you and you drive in this way, I feel really scared because I value my life,' or 'When I hear you talk about the way you drive, I feel worried because I care about your safety.'Giving feedback is a generous thing to do, so it's a great opportunity to be totally generous with our feelings.

3) Keep an open, curious mind.

If we go into a conversation with ready-made conclusions and no curiosity about what our friend actually thinks and feels, we have to question why we're having the conversation with them. If we've decided what's going on for them in advance, then the fact we want to have the conversation is probably more to do with our own stuff than anything they're bringing to the table. Just as we need to keep an open mind about what they're thinking and feeling, we need to keep an open mind about our motivations for having the conversation with them in the first place.Telling our friends what they do or do not think isn't going to be helpful to them. Only they know how they think and feel and, unless they've specifically told us, trying to tell them how they think is like saying 'I know how you feel better than you do.'

4) No psychoanalysing.

It's not our place to do it and, if it happens repeatedly, it will damage the relationship. Psychoanalysing produces an inequality in the interaction and takes away the curiosity and honesty. We're not there to be our friends' therapists, we're there to be their friends. The relationships are totally different and it's not healthy to blur the boundaries between the two.Ex-psychotherapist Daniel Mackler has a great summary of the difference between approaching someone with friendly curiosity and trying to be their therapist:'It is acceptable for a friend to ask any personal question for the sake of his own personal growth, but only insofar as it respects the delicate balance of the friendship. This requires much patience, self-awareness, and appropriate mutual self-appraisal on the part of both friends. On the contrary, it is rarely appropriate for a friend to ask – or request – a question intended to stimulate the other to grow or explore. That is a therapeutic question and does not belong in a friendship.'If we want to give unsolicited feedback, it might take a few goes to get it right, but by approaching a conversation with respect for both parties' feelings, we can make a huge difference to the communication and quality of our relationships. 

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