“Mum, what do you think about these shorts?” Yes, you may think… I’m at least being asked for my opinion! However, giving my truth or feedback is tricky in most circumstances and it does require tact and awareness of the most likely response before giving it. In other words… it’s a minefield! In this case, the shorts in question are high-waisted and I don’t like them and yet telling her that (which I have done in the past) has led to a frustrated response as she is seeking a signal that her fashion sense is on the mark, but our opinions are very different! So why is she asking me? Most people want to reassure themselves that they are making the right decisions so we will tend to rely upon the closest person to seek advice and validate us, even if they are a different sex or generation or don’t have the same views as us. The truth can be hard to deliver (“Yes babe, that does make your butt big”).
So in order to avoid this minefield here are some questions to ask yourself before answering or supplying advice/feedback:
“Will this feedback be really helpful for them, or does it just fulfil my own need to be right?” I may not like what they like, therefore my opinion will not be helpful or wanted. I may want to score a point because they deserve it! If I’m really being self-righteous, then I will want them to know exactly what I think is right, even if that doesn’t meet their expectation. Think before you speak! If you really believe your views would be helpful then first…
Seek first to understand! What is the need behind the question or behaviour? Is it validation? Are they looking to get attention? Always try to put yourself into their shoes before you comment on what they are doing/wearing/saying/asking/ to work out what the need is behind the question or the behaviour. This includes “bad” behaviour. If you can separate the person/child from the behaviour you can figure out what is behind it.
Be especially sensitive and careful around their “blind spots”. They are “blind” spots because they’re too sensitive to be brought into conscious awareness. Pointing out your daughter’s boyfriend is manipulative, aggressive or controlling before she sees it will not improve the situation. Unless they are prepared to change areas that they already know need to be improved, giving them feedback or advice on their blind spots is threatening and damages the relationship trust. You will just end up pushing them away.
So what can you do when you’re absolutely dying to tell them what they are doing/thinking/saying/wearing is wrong?
If it’s important to you to say something, try the sandwich method…
The truth is always received easier when it’s sandwiched between soft, gentle, validating words. “Honey, you generally have a great sense of style and I like most of what you wear as it suits you but on this occasion, it’s my opinion that those shorts don’t look good on you. However, that’s just my opinion and I think you should trust what your heart says as we have different fashion views and you are the best judge of what’s in at the moment for your age group”.
Unsolicited feedback… “Darling, I generally like what you wear as you have a great sense of style and that does look good on you, however, it does make you look way too sexy for your age and I am uncomfortable with you going out like that in case it puts you in a situation you find hard to get out of. I would worry about you all night. I know you’re a confident and capable person so I don’t think you need to dress so sexy to attract attention or to have fun with your friends.”
When you give advice/truth/feedback, it’s important to remember that you’re sharing your own perceptions (the way you see the world). So give “I” messages: “This is my view…” “My perception is …” “This is how I see it…` “This is the way I feel…” “This is what I see…” The moment you start sending “you” messages-“You are so selfish” “You look awful in that” “You’re being difficult”. You’re making yourself the ultimate judge of that person, making a statement as if it’s a fact! And this causes relationship damage and loss of trust. If you care about the person, then the delivery of the message does matter!
“Honey, I really like you in that other dress you have, the red one. It really suits your shape more. That skirt doesn’t look as good on you, don’t you think? I think you would be more relaxed in the other dress and you look lovely in it.” (see guys, it’s not that hard if you really think about it)
Think about it… what offends us the most when we get feedback, particularly when their heart is right but their words are wrong, is the idea that we’re incompetent, fixed, labeled, categorized, judged and that we can’t something more (than what you say) or that we can’t change. If I told my daughter “Yuck”, then of course she would feel insulted…that it reflects on her poor taste, that something was wrong with her for liking it.
I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have a trusting relationship with the people I care about which is based on respect and a desire to be helpful. I want my daughter to keep asking me rather than seeking feedback from others. That way I can encourage her to check in with herself instead of being validated by others.