Communication can be extremely difficult – I’ve had conversations blow up in my face when I thought I was doing the right thing. One of the reasons is a lack of clarity when people are coming to you for support – are you more looking for emotional support or how you can improve?
I think many people have a tendency towards one or the other.. my personal tendency is to move towards how someone can improve, I have other friends that are masters at naturally moving towards emotional support. But when you’re asking for support.. are YOU taking responsibility for being clear to the person you’re asking, what you’re looking for? When you’re giving support are YOU taking responsibility for asking the person you’re helping the kind of support that they’re interested in receiving?
I’ll give an example from my personal life – earlier this year my Nanny (grandmother) died, and I was given the task of creating a program for the funeral service. I put together, what I was happy with as a quite beautiful program, not perfect, but I thought really quite nice. I wanted to share it with friends on Facebook and I was quite clear internally that I was looking simply for emotional support.. I didn’t need any tips about the font, or if something was slightly off-centre, or the like.
When I made my post, I made this as abundantly clear as I could, and 95% of responses fell solidly in the realm of emotional support. 5% couldn’t help themselves (for which I don’t blame them, as I’m very guilty of this approach myself) and threw in a few tips about design, improvement, etc.
I was happy with the result, but I know if I hadn’t created that clarity and explicitly expressed my needs.. chances are that the results would have been the inverse, and I would have been left in an emotional quagmire while sorting through people’s “helpful” responses, because I didn’t clearly ask for emotional support.
Below is some text from Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone’s book “Thanks for the Feedback” that I think is helpful for anyone giving or requested feedback on making sure that it’s the right type in the moment. I hope you find it as useful as I have.
Offering feedback is often called “holding up a mirror” to help someone see themselves. But not all such mirrors are identical in what they reflect. When it comes to feedback, there are two kinds of mirrors – Supportive Mirrors and Honest Mirrors.
A supportive mirror shows us our best self, well rested and under flattering light. We go to a supportive mirror for reassurance. Yes, how we acted in that moment was not a pretty picture, but it’s not how we really look. It’s not a big deal. It’s a bad picture of you. Throw it away. You’re a good person.
An honest mirror shows us what we look like right now, when we’re not at our best, and our bedhead is bad. It’s a true reflection of what others saw today, when we were stressed and distracted and leaking our frustration. “Yes, you really did come across that way. It’s not a good thing.”
Consciously or unconsciously, we often ask the people closet to us to be supportive mirrors. We share a piece of feedback from the guy in Purchasing, implicitly inviting our friend to be on our side: “He’s overreacting right? He just doesn’t understand I’ve got bigger things to worry about, right?” Like the Wicked Queen in Snow White, we aren’t asking the mirror for an honest assessment. We’re asking for reassurance and support.
Reassurance and support are vital, and our friends and loved ones are uniquely able to offer it. But this role can put them in a bind: People we rely on for support are often hesitant to share critical, honest feedback with us. And that feedback might be helpful: “You know what? I don’t think everything Purchasing Guy said is right, and I don’t think he said it in the best way, but I can see what he’s getting at. There are some things that you could work on.”
They are hesitant not out of cowardice, but out of confusion and concern. They want to do what’s best for us, but aren’t sure whether just being supportive is the right thing. And yet they also aren’t sure whether and how to break out of the pattern that has been set. They are right to be concerned. When someone has been a supportive mirror, we can feel betrayed and blindsided if they suddenly become an honest one.
You can use the idea of honest and supportive mirrors to clarify what you’re asking of your friends. When you hand over your freshly finished screenplay or show them around your recently renovation, give them some guidance. In what measure are you looking for honesty or needing support? Being clear will help avoid crossed wires.
– Thanks for the Feedback, Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen, p94