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I was thinking about feedback recently.

I was trying to explore it from both the perspective of the sender and the receiver. I also wanted to take into consideration the various types of feedback. Some people offer feedback with the intent to help, and others provide feedback with the hope of changing the person.

To put it simply, feedback is complicated.

I wanted to see if there is an underlying mental model that can be helpful for both the sender and receiver and all forms and types of feedback. Maybe something simple and universal that applies to all interpersonal communication?

I thought of one of the chapters in our book You Can Choose titled Filters and Magnets. Here is an excerpt:

“You control your thoughts, and when combined, your thoughts form your beliefs. Your feelings are your reaction to the physical world based on your beliefs and provide much of the energy that creates your world.
Your thoughts, beliefs and feelings act like filters and magnets and drive what you see and what comes to you.”

You Can Choose

Our filters and magnets are at work when we talk to each other, particularly when we are giving and receiving feedback.

I think about the many conversations I’ve had with Beth that go something like this:

Beth: “Why are you doing it like that?”

Peter: “Because it’s the way I’m doing it, it’s the best way.”

Beth: “Fine, whatever.”

That’s what is actually said, but if you look at what message is sent and what is received, it’s a very different conversation.

Beth: “Why are you doing like that?

  • Message Beth intends: “I’m curious. You to do it so quickly and I’m interested in how and why.”
  • What Peter hears: “Don’t you know what you’re doing? There are better ways to do it, stupid.”

Anything said after this is completely out of context from the other person’s perspective. Peter had his defensive filters locked in and turned on, so no matter what Beth said or how she said it, it is heard from his defensive perspective.

Peter’s filters are automatic. It doesn’t mean they have to be there all the time, but unless and until Peter recognizes and changes his beliefs around feedback, they are going to kick in whenever he feels threatened.

It might be hard to imagine something as innocent as, “Why are you doing it that way?” as threatening, but that’s because of his filters.

As for the magnets, Peter is attracting the “threatening” language, and Beth’s is attracting the defensive response from Peter.

They are giving each other what they (unknowingly and unconsciously) are asking for.

Filters and Magnets are at work during every one of our interpersonal interactions. We attract the feedback and responses, and we filter everything that comes to us.

If that’s the case, what can we do about it?

The first step is to recognize our conversations are much more complex, with more than just words going back and forth. Our desires, fears, and expectations influence the discussion even more than the mere words we use.

Next, as the sender, think about what you mean when you speak. What are your thoughts and feelings on the topic? Is this a hot button for you or the receiver? Have you had this conversation before?

As the receiver, think about the different ways you can hear the same words. Are you making it more personal than you need to? If someone were to script the dialog with actors saying the lines, are there different ways to interpret them?

Being open to different viewpoints will amaze you. Looking at the same thing from a new perspective can help you shift from your automatic responses and open up new possibilities.