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I Want Honest Feedback — But Not Really

two women talking, one receiving feedback from the other
It's considered mature and forward-thinking to ask for feedback. But I have no idea who's actually doing it, because it's sure not me or my friends.

A few weeks ago a friend was venting at me about a difficult decision she had to make. She asked me to pray for her, so I did.

But I also weighed in on what she said.

I wasn’t weird or mean about it. On the one hand, I totally felt for her. Her situation was a tough one with no easy solution, and I said as much. But I also gave her a couple things to think about. It quickly became apparent that she wasn’t interested in my opinion. She had already made up her mind. She was going to do what she wanted to do, and was asking God (and maybe me) to put a stamp of approval on her decision.

When I didn’t, she brushed me off and changed the subject.

Tell me what I want to hear

Whether in relationships, on the job, at church or wherever, it’s considered mature and forward-thinking to ask for feedback. Experts say we’re supposed to ask for it frequently. Proactively. Boldly.

But I have no idea who’s actually doing it, because it’s sure not me or my friends. Conversations like the one above are pretty rare for me. Most of the time, I just don’t have the energy or willingness to go there (you can see why), so I cop out. Instead, I join the pack in doing what amounts to a combination of venting, listening, affirming, tongue-clucking, blame-shifting, ignoring, coddling and enabling.

When it comes to affirming the idea of accountability, iron sharpening iron, personal growth, feedback or (especially) confrontation and rebuke, we’re all for it — and we have the small groups and accountability partners to prove it. When it comes to actually practicing it, though — not so much. In this area, we’re equal-opportunity: We’re equally opposed to giving and receiving what needs to be said.

The why here is pretty obvious: Saying and hearing hard things is, well, hard. We don’t want to offend. We don’t want to jeopardize friendships. We don’t want to discover that we have blind spots or faults that need serious attention. Worse, we don’t want to hear that everyone else already sees them and it’s finally (sigh) time to do something about them.

But can we all agree that the alternative is infinitely worse?

  • People talking behind your back (“I can’t believe she said/did that.” “He needs to work on that big-time.” “That’s the most annoying thing about her.”)
  • You looking or acting like a fool (Proverbs 12:1, 16)
  • Stunted maturity
  • Self-destructive behavior that in the end actually destroys you (Proverbs 10:8, 16:18)
  • A steady descent into self-absorption, pride or overall denial (Proverbs 5:12-14)
  • Loss of respect
  • Alienation from friends, family and others

The truth will set you free

One of my biggest wake-up calls to the above came from an unlikely source. Years back, I was in a toxic romantic relationship. I can think of almost nothing good that came from the relationship, save one thing: I got a valuable piece of feedback. I didn’t ask for it, because I was blind to it. But my then-boyfriend volunteered it. In the course of casual conversation, he dropped this bomb:

Him: “You use sarcasm way too much, and at times it’s very hurtful.”

Me: …

Him: …

Me: …

I can’t remember exactly how I responded, but I know I heard him. More importantly, I believed him. He was wrong about a lot of things, but not this. You see, sarcasm was second-nature to me. I was a sarcasm ninja, and I used it liberally. I used it passively to pseudo-address conflict. I used it haphazardly to comment on people’s behavior. I used it shrewdly to get the last word. But I’d never considered its impact on others.

His simple rebuke shone a light on something I’d never seen, and it grossed me out. I was ashamed of my behavior. I determined to change.

If blunt words from a toxic boyfriend had such a positive effect, imagine how much more effective well-chosen, corrective words from loving friends can be.

Tell me what I need to hear

How do we go about making healthy feedback a part of everyday life? Here are a few ideas.

Get your people in place. You don’t need feedback from everyone. Pick a few. Pick people who love you and want what’s best for you. Pick people who you think may be honest with you if you give them a chance. Pick people who love God deeply and are committed to living humbly and transparently. They don’t have to have it all together, but they should be on this journey (and growing) as well.

Make the invitation. It’s terrifying to hear someone say, “Hey, I have something I need to talk to you about.” Man, I shivered just typing that. It’s much better to beat them to the punch and instead invite them to speak into your life. In fact, ask them to. I recently did this with a close friend. My request: “Please think of any areas of my life or character that could use improvement. Is there anything about me that’s off-putting? Any blind spots you see that others may notice? Anything I say I need to change, but am really doing nothing about?” You can also ask your friend to comment on a few areas of strength as well — especially at the beginning when this is all new and sensitive. Sandwiching, yo; it goes a long way.

Listen and receive. You asked for it, so receive it. And remember, these people know you and care about you, so their opinions matter and very well may be right. I mean, if they’re perceiving something, it makes sense to know what it is, right? Open your mind and heart to learn. Thank them for their gift, because they just did something very hard and risky. Ask follow-up questions if you’d like, but don’t defend yourself, turn the tables or walk away. Knowledge is power.

Act on what you already know. Unless you’re totally clueless, you probably already know some of your weaknesses. Personally, I need to exercise more. I’m on my phone too much. I interrupt people in conversation. I don’t need someone to tell me this; I need to start doing something about it. Instead of making excuses and asking my friends to enable my laziness and poor choices, I need to get busy. I can get friends involved in my growth, but the journey and the responsibility is mine and mine alone.

Be the friend who lovingly interferes. On the flip side of all this, sometimes you need to be the bearer of feedback or correction to someone else. Shoulder it bravely. Don’t gossip about it to others. Don’t address it passive-aggressively or with a joke. A true friend wounds with the goal of healing, never shaming or punishing.

But how do you bring it up? Sometimes it has to be directly, especially if you’re addressing blatant sin or something that is urgent in nature. For the average encounter, though, a friend gave me a great idea: Ask to be part of the conversation. Example: Your friend is venting about someone else and it’s descending into gossip and slander. Gently ask: “Can I maybe give you a different perspective to consider?” Or perhaps: “I see you’re upset about this. Let me pray for you and see if we can turn this is a different direction.” You’re showing care, but you’re being firm in where you’re allowing this to go.

The beginning of wisdom

Honestly, I don’t know anyone who’d claim to be an expert in giving or receiving feedback. It’s a skill learned over a lifetime. But what better time to start than the present? And what better way (short of the work of the Holy Spirit) to become mature and self-aware?

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown. (Proverbs 4:7-9)

Healthy feedback and accountability is money in the bank in acquiring the wisdom and emotional intelligence needed for every area of life. Go after it. You’ll be a trendsetter in a trend worth following.

Copyright 2019 Lisa Anderson. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Lisa Anderson

Lisa Anderson is the director of Boundless and young adults at Focus on the Family and hosts The Boundless Show, a national radio program and podcast. She loves connecting with single young adults and strategizing how to better equip them for life, relationships and a faith that goes the distance; she does not love managing budgets or signing contracts, but realizes that’s part of her job, too. Lisa can often be heard at conferences and on radio and TV, getting worked up about dating, relationships, faith and hip-hop. She grew up in San Jose, California, is a graduate of Trinity International University in Chicago, and spent a good chunk of her life in media relations before joining Boundless. She runs to counterbalance her love of pastries and chicken tikka masala, and often quotes her mom, who’s known to say outrageous things. She’s the author of The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose (David C. Cook). Follow Lisa on Twitter @LisaCAnderson.


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