How To Give Feedback Without Offending
Posted October 13
"Recently I watched a person who I’m close to and care about, treat another person I care about very badly. It made me so angry.
I found myself getting more and more angry the more I thought about it. I finally decided I had to say something because it was wrong and if no one else was going to speak up, I needed to.
I put them in their place, and I admit I might have been a little harsh, but I felt right about it. Now people are saying I shouldn’t have said anything.
So, I’m wondering, what would say is the right thing to do? Should we speak up and defend others when they are mistreated or should we just stay quiet?"
The answer is…it depends.
It depends on a number of important factors, but before I give those factors to you, I want to make sure you understand that most people believe there are only two ways to respond to mistreatment. They are...
1) You allow the bad behavior to go on (and even allow yourself or other people to get walked on) because you are afraid it would be unkind or mean to speak up.
In this case you may be overly selfless, but also feel you are being nice and loving. People often refer to themselves as too nice here, but usually it is about feeling scared of hurting others. You would rather be mistreated and be a doormat, than speak up and risk hurting another person’s feelings or have them not like you.
2) You speak up and defend yourself and other people, because it is more important to be strong and right, than nice or loving.
In this case you tend to be overly selfish and strong, but sometimes too harsh and unkind. You feel OK about this because you see the other person as a threat to you or others.
People may say you are blunt, but it is more than just being strong enough to be honest, because it often comes from ego and even enjoyment in being right. You may think it’s better to err on the side of harsh and mean, than to be a doormat.
Think about those two options for a minute. Do you subconsciously believe these are your only two options? I’d like to introduce you to a third option.
3) I call this “the middle way” and you basically take the loving (from the 'weaker perspective) and the strong (from the 'mean' perspective) and putting them together. You learn to be both strong and loving at the same time.
This approach means speaking up, but doing it in a validating, kind, uplifting way that honors the value of both parties at the same time.
In order to find the "middle way" you must learn to quiet your fear and come from a space of trust and love instead.
This middle way may be foreign territory to you though, if you never had a parent or role model who behaved like this. You may need some coaching or to get some people skills in order to master it.
Here are 6 factors that should be in place if you are going to speak up or defend against mistreatment the right way:
- You must trust the infinite, absolute and equal value of every human being on the planet.
This means being very aware that despite errors this other person may have made, they still have the same value as you. This means you are not speaking down to them or treating them like they are less than you. This isn’t about being nice; it’s about being accurate.
You may not have made this mistake, but you have made others. Get off your high horse and make sure you can talk to this person as a peer and as an equal, with respect and even validation of their worth.
- You must remember life is a classroom and whatever happened – the reason it happened – is to give someone (or everyone involved) a lesson on being stronger, wiser or more loving.
Everything that happens can be seen this way (if you choose this perspective).
There can be purpose and meaning in every experience and your number one job then, is to figure out the lesson in it for you, before you focus on a lesson for another person.
Sometimes you will be the teacher and it will be your place to give feedback, but other times you are also the student. So, before you put on the teacher's hat and set another person straight, make sure you have taken stock of how this situation can make you more mature, wise or loving. Figure out your lesson first.
- Make sure it is really your place to teach this lesson to this person.
Is it really your role or responsibility? If you honestly feel it is your place, go to number 4.
- How would God or the universe want or expect this feedback to be given?
Would harsh or mean behavior ever be the right way? Or would it make more sense to handle this with love, respect and validation?
There is an Assessment on my website that shows on paper your subconscious tendency toward harsh mean behavior and/or weak or co-dependent behavior. You might find that interesting to see which way you unconsciously lean.
- Would this person be more open to learning, growing or changing from this experience, if they were treated with respect and love?
Sometimes when feedback feels like an attack, the walls go up and people get defensive and when this happens learning is less likely to take place.
Once they get defensive they dig in and defend their bad behavior because the attack is now about their worth as a person. They will not be open to learning anything at this point.
In order to create a space where someone feels safe enough to learn and grow, they must first feel validated and cared about. You must make them feel their worth, then ask if they would be open to some feedback. There is a Mutually Validating Communication Formula Worksheet on my website which will take you through handling conversations this way.
- Check yourself and make sure you are coming from a place of love towards all parties involved, not a place judgment and criticism.
Make sure you are not seeing yourself as better than anyone else. Make sure your agenda is to help them becoming stronger, wiser or more loving and the feedback is about serving them not condemning them.
Your original question was, “Should we speak up and defend others when they are mistreated or should we just stay quiet?”
My answer is YES, you should speak up if you can speak up, with the 6 factors above guiding you. If you aren't the right person or can’t do it the right way, then you should stay quiet until you can.
It means in cases where you value the relationship with this other person, and want to have a healthy one relationship, you might check your anger and ego at the door first, so you don’t destroy the relationship.
Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach, speaker and people skills expert.