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Why is feedback in relationships important?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

We live in a world that gives us feedback. Our bodies give us feedback when we eat something we don't like (burps). Our computers give us feedback when we boot up (yes, you do have mail). And our speakers give us feedback if we point the mic in the wrong direction (cover your ears?). Funny thing, though. A lot of us have trouble giving feedback to each other - really good, genuine feedback - especially in our romantic relationships. Our "feedback" comes off as criticism, snarky remarks, and attacks on character. Use these strategies when you're trying to help each other - to really help them, and not hurt them.
When Giving Feedback:
Know the four qualities of good feedback.
- Specific: Feedback must be based on observable behavior, not one's feelings or the conclusions drawn from the behavior. For example, "Thanks for helping the kids build a Lego volcano." Specific compliments help.
- Timely: Do it now. Don't let your criticisms fester.
- Actionable: Make sure it's based on something over which a person has control. "The color of your eyes scares me?" isn't helpful.
- Positive: Give both positive and critical feedback, but tip the balance in the positive direction.
When Receiving Feedback:
- Listen without comment, looking directly at the person. When they've finished, don't make any statements, but do ask questions if you want clarification. Don't accept, don't deny and don't rationalize. Because we are rarely taught to give feedback well, you will often get feedback when the giver is angry about something in the moment. Listening should be as active a pursuit as speaking.
- Recognize the courage it took to give you the feedback and consider it a sincere gift intended to help you grow. Thank the giver for feedback. Make it short, but something you can say sincerely, such as "You've really given me something to think about, thanks." It's hard to feel real appreciation when you hear negative messages about your appearance or behavior, so it's important to have simple words of gratitude prepared ahead of time.
- Know that feedback can be tough to receive, even if we solicit it and are grateful for it. Although it's simply another's perception, feedback can shake up your feelings about yourself. Plan to do something nice for yourself when you know you're facing tough feedback. Try to do something that bolsters self-esteem - have dinner with friends, or engage in an activity that you are particularly good at.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.