We often share our immediate experience with others in social situations. This could be emotional experience, for example: “How exciting,” or “That gives me the creeps.” Or, it could be perceptual experience: “You seem to be putting a lot of time and energy into your hobby.” Sharing your experience builds connection and relationship. It’s part of how we grow together with others.
You can also use this normal sharing function to help others become more aware of their problematic attitudes or behaviours. To do so, I believe you need to further develop two capabilities that you already have:
- Your ability to notice your immediate experience in a present and conscious manner;
- Your ability to disclose your experience.
When you are with a friend, colleague, or client who is struggling with an issue, pay attention to what you experience in his or her presence and how you are assessing him or her in semi-conscious ways. This is the first step.
Then, at an opportune moment, disclose what you are experiencing:
“I am getting confused listening to you. The situation sounds very complex.”
Or, another example from a conflict situation:
“It’s fair to say you are highly intelligent. I sometimes feel that you want to be sure I know that. I wonder if the other party experiences what I am experiencing and how that might affect how she responds to you. What do you think?”
In social situations we generally don’t share critical or negative experience. We usually keep thoughts such as the following to ourselves:
“I find you scary.”
But, when you play a professional role, or when someone explicitly asks for your assistance, then she is generally more open to viewpoints with critical elements. Also, you may be able to establish critical feedback as a normal part of the conversation using the following question:
“If I notice you doing something I don’t think is helpful, may I point it out to you?”
Most importantly, people can be very receptive to critical feedback when it is expressed as your experience, rather than as an evaluation. For example:
“When I want to say something, I have trouble knowing when to speak. I also wonder if you are interested.”
As opposed to:
“You talk so much that others don’t have opportunity to have a conversation with you. Then you go away with only a partial view of how someone else sees a situation.”
When you notice such unproductive attitudes and behaviours and dispassionately shed light on them, you bring their significance to an individual’s awareness. He or she is often surprised to learn that these attitudes or behaviours could influence how another party responds.
Sometimes it may be natural to add an open question:
“As we’ve been talking I’ve been getting a knot in my stomach. Why do you think this is?”
Rather than tell someone what you think about him, focus on reporting your experience of being in his presence. Note that none of the examples above include judgements or conclusions. They are better described as experiences and perceptions – ones that you suggest the other person consider.
By not expressing a judgement or conclusion verbally, you help to diminish defensive reactions to your feedback. You also graphically communicate the significance of unproductive attitudes and behaviours.
If you are open to making a little extra effort to be helpful, try out this method:
- Pay close attention to what you experience
- Decide what aspect of your experience is most relevant
- Find a way to put it into words and share it with the other person
General guideline: Report your experience, but not your evaluations or judgements.