Feedback and Boundaries: The Dynamic Duo



Receiving useful feedback can be life changing.  It’s through feedback that we see how other’s perceive us and other people learn about how we perceive them.  Many of us stumble through life with huge “blind spots”.  Meaning, others can see and be affected by our behaviours but we are blissfully unaware.  It is by being open to growth and learning that we encourage others to give us the feedback we need.

BUT, not everyone is good at delivering useful and supportive feedback.  I remember as a young woman spending hours getting ready to go out on a date and when I emerged from my bedroom my mother said, “You aren’t wearing that, are you?”  As you can imagine, I was deflated.  I can’t exactly remember how I reacted but I’m fairly sure it wasn’t good.

My mother loved me and had my best interests at heart and I knew that so I cut her lots of slack.  Yet, not everyone has good intentions.  What about the colleague whose motives are not so clear?  What about the boss who has a huge “blind spot” and delivers feedback like a freight train? It’s important to be open for feedback but not to be open for having your soul crushed.  This is where boundaries are indispensable. When feedback is coming hard and fast, this is not the time to “turtle” or go into hiding.  As Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen say in their new book, Thanks for the Feedback, “Being able to establish limits on the feedback you get is crucial to your well-being and the health of your relationships.”  Sometimes shutting out the critics and forging ahead to make your own choices, mistakes and plans, is essential.

Stone and Heen talk about three main boundaries:

1) I may not take your advice – with this boundary you are willing to listen and consider what is being said but you may decide to go another way.  By voicing this to the other person, you are letting them know where you stand.

2) I don’t want feedback about that subject, not right now (or ever) – You get to decide when you are willing to hear feedback.  The only concern with this boundary is that you don’t use it to close down a conversation continually as a strategy to avoid dealing with an important issue that needs addressing.

3) Stop, or I will leave the relationship – As Stone and Heen say, “If you can’t keep your judgments to yourself, if you can’t accept me the way I am now, then I will leave the relationship, or change its terms.” This boundary is for when someone’s method of giving feedback is harmful and damaging to our sense of who we are.

When it comes to feedback, it needs to be constructive and supportive.  If the feedback is a character assassination, non-stop, demanding, threatening or manipulative, it’s time for a boundary.

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