Archives for posts with tag: expectation setting

It’s been a wonderful weekend with much to celebrate and very little stress. 🙂 Life doesn’t always hand out such lovely weekends, uninterrupted by bullshit and drama, characterized by laughter and love; warmth and affection saturated each welcome moment. It was beautiful. I’m sipping my coffee and smiling, and taking time for gratitude. I can even pin-point what made this particular weekend so incredibly delightful; kind words.

It is not an exaggeration to observe that when most people talk about giving “feedback”, they are talking about negative feedback. Let’s be real about that; negative feedback can also, generally, be called “criticism”, and being criticized, especially if it is a regular thing, is not pleasant. It’s quite difficult to give negative feedback in an encouraging way that lifts someone up, and promotes improvement and positive change. It fairly commonly feels like a beat-down, discouraging, punishing, and devaluing. Yes, even when well-intentioned, and particularly if there is no balancing positive feedback or encouragement offered. Negative feedback is hard to do skillfully, and can be damaging.

You know what isn’t all that difficult? Positive feedback – encouragement. You know what is also fairly easy to do skillfully, and rarely causes damage? Kind words. Yep. Negative feedback isn’t nearly as effective, but it does provide a certain something for the giver-of-feedback (that isn’t at all needed by the person receiving it); the satisfaction of insisting on being heard. Many people avoid clearly understanding what the negative feedback experience feels like for the recipient – until they are, themselves, receiving it. It’s a shame, because positive feedback, encouragement, and kind words, given honestly, and from an authentic place, work in the most remarkable way to actually change behavior over time. Seriously.

(No one is talking about “white lies” here! Or lies at all.)

The key to both positive and negative feedback is the honesty and authenticity, but without kindness and encouragement, negative feedback is often just… mean. Whether we intend it that way or not. It’s just that no one likes being criticized. Feeling rejected actually causes an experience similar to physical pain. It does not matter in the least whether we are “right”; negative feedback stings a little every time, and if it comes as a barrage of nagging and complaints, all the positive intentions in the world won’t ensure the person we are speaking to thinks of it as “helpful” or “welcome” or will recognize that we are well-intentioned, at all. It’s often what comes to our attention most commonly, and most quickly, though – all those things we see as “could have been done better”. We notice that immediately. We are irritated by things that aren’t “right”. We speak up quickly to offer “feedback” – or feel like we’re not being “heard”.

Kindness does take a bit more effort; it’s important to actually notice real things that please, impress, or support us, or which we want to acknowledge and reinforce. That means actually actively paying attention to that person we care enough about to give feedback to. It also means understanding what is important to us, and being very aware of words and actions that support what we see as something that “matters”. Where negative feedback has it’s own notification system in place to let us know when something isn’t quite right, positive reinforcement doesn’t seem to do that, and puts the burden of awareness in our relationships where it belongs; it our here and now, a practice we practice. Can you even count the number of kind things, encouraging words, that you’ve said to your partner or a dear friend in the past 24 hours? If you’re like most people, that number is pretty low, most of the time, and the number of criticisms, “negative feedback”, and back-handed compliments are probably pretty high. It’s a pretty sad state of things considering that there is science to support the need for healthy relationships to have a high ration of positive to negative interactions. Just saying. Do better. Be kind. Be present. Be encouraging. 😉 Have pleasant weekends. 😀

…Now, having said that, it’s also a real thing that if we’re not playing the game of life by the same rules, within our relationships, it can get weird and unpleasant very quickly when we make a change in our behavior of this sort. If a person living in the context of a very negative, sarcastic, gas-lighting relationship starts trying to embrace positive feedback and kindness, it’s not going to “fix” the other person, or the relationship. It’s just not. (I’m not saying negative feedback and criticism are therefore the way to go; sometimes the way ahead isn’t easy, and a few small changes just aren’t adequate to put things right, generally.) What I am saying is that otherwise generally emotionally healthy people do well to treat each other truly well, placing more emphasis and priority on positive feedback, encouragement, and kind words, than on negative feedback.

This past weekend really proved that idea for me. The once or twice I was offered any sort of negative feedback in the moment completely fades from my recollection. I remember the points being made, and the suggestions, but not the negative words or moments. What I remember most about the weekend was the kindness, the compliments, the encouragement, the supportiveness, the listening, the connectedness, the shared humor… it was a wonderful weekend. I felt valued, appreciated, and loved. Words do matter. Assumptions do matter. How we approach each other as human beings does matter. All weekend long I’ve felt the heartbeat of this partnership in a warm, positive way, wrapped in love and held in high regard. So much kindness and tenderness. 🙂

There are subtleties to consider. The difference between “a helpful suggestion” and “unwelcome criticism” is in things like tone, context, and intention; it’s super hard to make useful “rules” about how to do that skillfully, that I could share and someone else could make use of. I am painfully aware of the complexities and required nuance – I’m learning as I go, myself. (Sorry for the extra “homework”!)

Empty compliments are hollow, and don’t work as positive feedback. Content, authenticity, honesty, these things matter. The moment matters. The choice of words matters. Tone of voice matters. Sincerity matters (we can all hear a passive-aggressive “tone”, or sarcasm.) It does take some practice, particularly if we’ve tended to be very negative in our life (possibly framing our choice to be so as “taking care of myself” “expressing my needs” or “setting boundaries”). If you find yourself reading these words thinking “well, except for so-and-so, because I literally have nothing good to say to them”, well, now you’re in “if you can’t say something nice…” territory. Seems unlikely that any one individual could be someone with literally no redeeming qualities of any kind worth reinforcing or encouraging… certainly seems unlikely you’d have chosen to marry such a person, or build a life with them, or develop a deep friendship with someone like that, right? So, start where that positive feedback and those encouraging kind words will make the most profound difference; at home. This holiday season, don’t be a dick. 🙂 Tell the people who matter to you that they do matter. Say nice things more often than you criticize or “correct” them. Trust me; it’s painless to be nice. 😉

…And if you just have to offer up a “correction” or “criticism”, definitely try to at least soften your tone! Sounding angry or irritable is real communication of emotions. It’s helpful to be at least aware that the emotional experience we’re having is our own, and to acknowledge that honestly and not try to put it on the person we’re talking to in some kind of blame-laying way. 🙂

Are you afraid of fucking this up? Are you worried about “being wrong” or “taken the wrong way”? I get it. Change – however necessary, or desirable, can be hard. Fortunately, there are a ton of opportunities to begin again. Go ahead – take a chance on being kind to people you care about. Hell, it’s the holiday season, be kind to everyone, as though each person you meet is human, and really matters. (They are, and do.) If you don’t like who you become, the new year is here, soon enough, and you can begin again, again. 😀

Oh, I know, hugely misleading subject line, if I got your attention and you think I’m going to talk about sex. 😦  Cuz…um…I’m not. Nope. Different sort of sucking.

i suck at making my needs understood. Even when I think I have expressed myself simply, clearly – and even in the face of seeming to have understanding and affirmation from others, I regularly find myself facing a complete disconnect from what I thought I had expressed and what others later recall or seem to have taken from the conversation. There’s no point being mad at them.  My friends and partners and loved ones are pretty rational people who communicate well with others. I, on the other hand, have a lifetime of struggling to have my needs understood (sometimes by me) or to communicate them clearly… so it has to be me.  If past partners are to be understood, maybe it really ‘always’ is.

It’s not ‘self pity’ – let’s be clear. I’m disappointed. I’m sad. I’m angry – mostly with myself, because I tried so hard to get this fucking ‘taking care of me’ thing right and failed with the sort of unarguable failure that I’ll let myself ‘enjoy’ all day.   I’m still not heard, not understood. Everyone involved simply walked away with their own assumptions. My own efforts at clarifying questions or re-setting expectations, or ‘working it out’ equitably just got me a hearty helping of isolation and being disconnected. Peachy.

I feel sad and frustrated. I thought I had today set to go – a lovely day of mindfulness and domesticity in support of my own needs and the needs of my family. I wasn’t understood. Now I still have a lengthy to-do list – and no joy facing it.  I put so much into this – into communicating my own needs, in communicating what I wanted to provide to support our family… and I completely failed. I failed with real skill, considering I went into it thinking what I had to offer was desirable and advantageous to everyone else. I guess I didn’t understand their needs either. 😦

Well, just fucking delightful. When I suck – I do so with real skill, and by way of overcoming all obvious advantages – like everyone seeming to want the same thing. Bravo, me!

Shit. Happy Sunday. Now what?