7 September 2008 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 18, 15-20 Feedback-giving
Have you ever wanted to tell a family-member, a friend or a co-worker about a behavior or an attitude that pisses you off? You thought that giving it might hurt your friendship, or another person’s feelings, so you would rather not than rock the boat? We forget that we are all responsible for each other, and therefore, we help each other grow into better people. Giving constructive feedback then, as the Jesus reminds us in the Gospel, is a skill that we must develop as Christians. We’ve seen many persons advancing in age, but have not shed off their bad behavior. So, how are we going to give feedback? Here are a few steps for both the person who will give the feedback, and the person who receives them. However, this process is very sensitive. And so we can find these guidelines helpful.
First, we must pay attention to the location and timing to offer feedback. Often, it is good to give it immediately since the incident is fresh: like a ‘short chat’ after a choir sings terribly at mass. Choose a quiet and private room, to avoid the person embarrassment. Do not give large quantities of facts, because this might overwhelm the person. Do not burden a person with a long list of wrongdoings. We have to be sensitive to the person: they might not be ready to receive them, or the timing is not right (eg. the person is a host of a party and is currently busy entertaining guests).
Second, describe the incident than judge the person. Give the person an objective description of the event, avoiding judgment of a person’s character or offering appropriate behavior. Focus just on the behavior (“When you did this, I was hurt” is different from “When you shouted at me, you were being uncharitable!”). Avoid the labels or the statements that is ambiguous like “you always do this” or “you never do this to me.” Give specific and clear examples and frequency. By being non-threatening, you allow the person to discuss the problem with you.
Third, describe possible consequences of their behavior. By giving them a possible scenario will help the person see why they need to change. Be careful that we do not blame the person. Often, there are reasons why people act the way they do. Many are unaware or are paralyzed by their personal issues and addictions.
Fourth, concentrate on behavior that can be changed or modified. Be realistic, feedback is not right when they have little or no control over the problem. For example, to propose counseling in another country, when the person cannot afford it. Thus it is important to discuss with the receiver possible goals. It is better if we do not offer all the answers, but to involve the person in the discussion. Allow them to explain their problems and highlight their difficulties. Ask the person what they can possibly do to fix their problems. By involving them increases the possibility of them taking action because they will feel trusted and empowered.
Finally, end by summarizing important points and offer what you can do to encourage and support them. Follow in time (but not too often as to be nagging) and give praise for little changes that the person has done.
On the other hand, if you are receiving the feedback it is better to take a few points. First, listen to the person carefully. Do not interrupt them. When the person finishes talking, you can ask questions to clarify what was said. Avoid being defensive. If you disagree with a point, ask them to give more details about the event.
Second, summarize the feedback by paraphrasing or using your own words. This would ensure that you and the giver understand each other. And then, feel free to discuss the person’s feedback.
Finally, discuss what you and the person giving it can do together. However, if you are not sure about the other person and you feel uncomfortable, postponed this last step to evaluate what you feel. Knowing what you feel clearly is important to change. Remember, you may not agree with everything that they have said, but there may be something that is true.
The motivation for all this is important. The Gospel tells us that when we give feedback, it is done out of charity — because they are important to us and we wish what is good for them. Whether the person becomes angry or not is not anymore our business. By not saying a word, we tolerate unacceptable behavior.