We're all familiar with the old saying, "Everybody is a critic." Feedback occurs regularly in life. People hand it out all the time. Often with negative results. Why? Because it is a skill that we rarely teach. As a result, feedback often results in fireworks, hurt feelings and damaged relationships. It should only be offered with permission and it should be free from any hidden agenda. This is especially true in families where we know each other's hot buttons and vulnerabilities. This inside knowledge primes us for connection; it also means we know how to cut one another to the quick with a glance, a comment or silence.
And few people have been taught the essential distinction between a critique and criticism. A critique strives to analyze and evaluate, to identify merit as well as shortcomings, to strike a balance so improvement can result. Criticism, on the other hand, seeks to find fault. It can turn into shame and strike at our core identity. Most people slip into criticism when they offer feedback. It's frequently delivered with anger or malice.
As parents, we have several chances each day to provide feedback to our spouses, partners and children. It's important that we do so with an eye to strengthening the relationship and not on cutting the other person down. Relationships are fragile. As adoptive parents, we must attune to our children. Balance our interactions with our children. Make sure that the scale tips in favor of interactions that create connection. Spend time having fun together, creating memories that last a lifetime. Provide discipline when necessary. Share the wisdom and knowledge, coaching them on how to improve, but offer it sparingly; no one likes to feel constantly judged. (Before sharing any feedback, pause. Make sure that you are delivering information that will help them improve rather than venting your own frustration or anger.)
Before we let the words fall from our mouth we must identify our motive because it will have a significant effect on our word selection and tone of voice. These factors will shape the way our family members will receive our message. Let's consider an example.
Think back to the last time you offered feedback to a family member. What was your mood? Were you "in their face" or calm? What was your true intent? How was your feedback received? How did each of you feel afterwards? Was it the result you wanted?
Now imagine a "do over." How might you improve your result?
Before you answer, let's explore some guidelines on how to frame feedback. First, it must be accurate, purposeful and empathetic. Second, identify your motive. Are you genuinely interested in helping them? Next, is the timing appropriate? Is the listener in an approachable frame of mind? Are other people present? Remember nobody enjoys having shortcomings pointed out in front of an audience. Children deserve the same privacy boundaries you would want for yourselves.
Before you dish out any feedback, set the stage for success. Choose a time when your child or spouse is like to feel receptive and open. Select a place that is conducive to having a sensitive conversation. Secure permission. Uninvited feedback is likely to be rebuffed or ignored. In fact, it's apt to trigger conflict.
Once you've ticked all these boxes, consider how and what you will say. Think H2O*. Begin and end with something positive. Be genuine. Then share your insight. Always conclude with something that is positive. Tackle one thing at a time, piling on the critiques is discouraging and counterproductive.
When offering your critique, follow the "FORMS" method. Ensure your feedback is Factual, Observable, Reliable, Measurable, and Specific. Base feedback on the current event and present moment not on past failings or actions. Avoid language such as always and never. Speak calmly and neutrally. Then let it go. Give them time to evaluate and absorb the information.
Parental behavior provides a clear model for children to follow. In order to teach them how to provide feedback, make an important distinction. Are you offering criticism or a critique? Be brutally honest with yourself. Motive matters. A lot.
Like all skills, successfully providing constructive feedback takes practice. Create opportunities for children to do this. For example, name one night each week "Food Critics Night." Tell them you want mealtimes to be better for you and them. (Mutual goal!) Remind them that they must frame their answers with kindness. (Empathy!) Pass out notepaper and ask them to rate the food. (This shows them you value their opinion.) Provide categories like, eye appeal, flavor, what they liked most, what they liked least, and if they'd like to have it again. (Helps them focus on specifics.)
Your response to their answers will show them how to receive feedback. Keep in mind that your request for feedback demonstrates that it is not to be feared. In fact, it can be a welcome and useful way to gather information. "Negative" feedback is one person's perception, not an attack on you personally. Feedback is not good or bad, right or wrong. It is simply information about how we are in the world and how someone perceives us. Listen to the feedback. Evaluate it. Integrate it. Or, toss it!
Of course, if you receive similar feedback from several people, that might suggest an adjustment would be appropriate.