How to give negative feedback without losing friends

When you feel upset with someone, do you tend to a) ignore the problem and hope it will go away or b) overreact and say stuff you later regret? If you do either of the above you are not alone. Most people aren’t all that great at giving feedback.

The trouble is neither a) nor b) is likely to resolve the issue. The former is likely to just cause resentment in you and the latter could negatively impact your relationship. So, here are some tips for expressing criticism, negative feedback or difficult issues without losing friends or alienating people in the process:

  1.    Don’t forget the good stuff

It’s much easier to feedback something negative if there’s already an existing positive connection between you based on a foundation of goodwill. Healthy relationships tend to have a ratio of 5:1 good interactions to negative ones. So, make sure that you are saying and doing lots of good stuff before wading in with anything bad.

  1.    Examine yourself first

Sometimes we can overreact if we’re tired, angry or stressed or if the current situation reminds us of an issue or a relationship from the past.

It can help to spend a moment or two reflecting on why you’re upset. What are you telling yourself about what the other person did or didn’t do?

  1.    Go directly to the person involved

When we’re upset, it can be tempting to offload to anyone and everyone who will listen (and a few who won’t!) but it is often more constructive to go to the person directly. The exceptions to this would be if the person is abusive or unsafe (in which case confiding in another trustworthy person is a good idea).

  1.    Pick a good time

Choose a time when you both have time to talk and are not rushed, stressed or distracted. If the time you pick doesn’t suit them, ask if you can book in a time when you can talk something through with them.

If talking face to face with them feels too intense, you could always suggest going for a walk or a drive because then you’ll be side by side instead.

  1.    Be specific

Avoid generalisations or statements that begin “You always…” or “You never…”. Try instead to be specific about the feedback that you want to give. Explain what they did or didn’t do and how it made you feel. Remember to be kind and speak to them in a way that you’d want to be spoken to, if you were the one having to hear something difficult instead.

  1.    Listen to their perspective

Allow the other person to give you their perspective on the situation and you may learn something that you didn’t know. Be open and curious with them, trying hard not to interrupt when they are sharing.

  1.    Say the last 10%

Make sure that you say the most important part of what you want to say. Too many times people leave the last 10% unsaid and that is often the most important bit. Be brave!

Sometimes it can help to share how you were impacted by the issue, and what you subsequently told yourself about the incident. This allows the other person to see how you were affected at a deeper level and makes it easier to understand what you took away from what they did.

  1.    Know what you want to be different

Help the other person know what you’d want to be different going forward. Again, be as specific as possible and let them know what you’d find helpful or better. Don’t expect them to guess or mind read. Most of us don’t have those superpowers!

Brave communication isn’t easy but when it is done well, it can help deepen rather than harm our closest relationships.

Sarah Abell


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