COMMON NON-SENSE and the art of giving feedback

I don’t like references to common sense, because – let’s face it – what we experience as common sense more often than not turns out to be a lot of non-sense when looking at it more closely. Here is an example: remember the last time you flew as one of many passengers on an aircraft? Think about these two questions 1.) Where did you put your carry-on luggage before taking your seat? 2.) What did you do after landing right after the “fasten seat belts” sign went off?

Let me guess: You put your luggage into the overhead compartment exactly above your head. And when the sign went off, you jumped up as if some poisonous snake had just tried to bite you. But Why? Maybe you are scared that someone takes your stuff or steals from your belongings. It does not matter how substantial this worry is, it’s there and it makes you jump up. It’s very common, and seen from a distance it is common non-sense.

What if everyone would place his/her belongings into the overhead compartment on the other side of the aisle? CRAZY that would be – right? absolutely outrageous. Think about it for a moment. Let the craziness of that thought slowly evaporate and then acknowledge that doing so could actually help you worry less about where your bag is and if your belongings are still safe – because you could better keep an eye on your stuff!

Now, back to common non-sense in couples counselling. When it comes to relationships clients often reveal the following misbelief. They are convinced that communicating personal experience (better known as “giving feedback”) has something to do with embellishing the truth or a requirement to beat around the bush.

Furthermore, in my men’s groups I often hear, that the proper way to tell someone that he or she has areas of improvement is to sandwich this message between at least two positive remarks. This then often ends up like “Hey Seb, I like your tie and by the way you suck big time. But hey, you are really a funny guy!”. To be clear here: this is NOT feedback! This is HR talk in a german multinational automotive supplier in the early 90ties. It is that sort of horrible experience that people write about 20 years later on their blog.

When we give feedback to our partners or anywhere else where we show up as a person –  we do this by connecting with our hearts. Do this ONLY a) because you care about the other and b) because you want to support the other. Moreover, you will want to ask for permission (“Can I share my experience with you …”) and you do NOT want to package or sandwich anything. You do want to be honest about what is relevant. That requires you to refer to behaviour and not to personality.