It is a bizarre human phenomena. One of us can say something and another hear something completely different. Since a big element to our communication is physical, we are indeed saying more than we realize. In our politically-correct, emotionally-driven world, we are trying hard not to offend anybody and that saturates what we say. We can be passive-aggressive. We can get upset about something without naming (or even knowing) the deep cause for an anger.
The result is that the people listening to us are trying to cipher a code. A carefully constructed language that even the communicator doesn’t always understand.
Therefore, feedback is essential for effective communication. In our marriage, we have discovered that there is perhaps nothing as important as feedback to ensure we are understanding one another properly.
Put the Safety On
The challenge of feedback is that the listener is just as capable of blinding emotionality as the sender. We hear things that aren’t being said. We feel attacked or devalued when we’re disagreed with. We are ready and willing to be offended, locked and loaded to respond in kind.
The one thing that is necessary for good feedback (and healthy communication in general) is safety. Another way to say this is shared trust. If you don’t trust one another, healthy communication is going to be really tough. Because you’ve already cast yourselves as adversaries. You are going to assume you are being attacked and view the other as an opponent. This taints the communication.
Trust (safety) doesn’t happen overnight. And it is not a pass/fail situation. You can “be working on trust”. Imperfect trust is good enough for communication to take place. The only thing that makes communication impossible is a complete and total lack of it.
The first step to feedback is to put the safety on.
For those wondering how this works or what it looks like, feedback is essentially this: more communication. Like all communication, it depends on intention. If you are trying to understand the truth, you will communicate until you get at it as fully as possible. If you are trying to justify your own emotions, you’ll find ways and means of derailment.
One thing we do in our marriage is repeat the “truth” (as we understand it) back to the person. “What I hear you saying is…” Sometimes this is spot on, sometimes not. “What I hear you saying is that the things I have to say have no value.” To which the other often responds, “Whoa, what? I just said I think your story at dinner dragged on a little long.”
Feedback is about talking about what you are hearing in the subtext and testing it against your partners intention. It is a tricky business since we are often saying things without saying them (or meaning to). But the key is to keep talking about it until 1) emotions are acknowledged, 2) intention is made clear, and 3) truth is shared and established. Even if it hurts. Feedback often leads to a need for repentance and apology.
Communication is hard work. Truth is an acquired taste. And we would rather have a shortcut. We’d rather make our assumptions, blow our fuse, and move on. But if we truly value our relationships, there is nothing more important than true communication. And there is nothing more vital to communication than feedback.