[originally published on May 3rd, 2020]
First, we’ll start off with feedback. There are two key pieces to high-quality feedback: it must be properly constructive, and it must add something wholly novel.
Feedback is constructive when it gives some actionable advice on how to improve. For example, saying “Your writing is trash” isn’t constructive. However, “Your writing is trash. This is because you’re doing X, when it is better to do Y”, is constructive.
Of course, there are still some faults with this line of communication. Remember from the first episode that our goal in communication is to make the person feel good. Putting it as bluntly as “Your writing is trash” is going to cause the person to zone in on those fighting words, rather than you’re actual advice. Even though you’ve given them constructive feedback, they won’t listen and they certainly won’t like you!
The best method around this is the classic Praise->Criticism->Praise loop, often used by managers in performance reviews. It goes about how you’d imagine it to go, something like this: “I really like Z about your writing, and think you should do more of it. X isn’t quite there, but you can improve it by doing Y. But overall I think its good work, especially with the attention to B.” Notice that? We’ve just given not one but three pieces of constructive feedback, and our piece of criticism is a) much more toned down, and b) sandwiched between two positives. This will make it a lot more likely that the person will listen to what we have to say!
The final topic we’ll touch on in communication (for now) is conflict. If you’re having a fight with someone, what do you do to both calm them down and get them to do what you want them to do?
There are three major steps to proper conflict adjustment: don’t surrender, explain your feelings, and guide them subtly. Let’s break each of these down.
The first important step is to not surrender your emotions. If you’re in the wrong, apologize immediately and sincerely — but make sure the person cannot guilt you into feeling one way or another. If you let someone guilt you, they’ll feel like they possess your emotions. And if they feel like they possess your emotions (even if they actually don’t!) you’ll lose your power over them.
Secondly, explain your feelings in a neutral and logical way. The goal is here is not to get the other person on their own guilt trip. Rather, the goal is to reduce communication friction, the number one driver of most conflicts.
Finally, you want to guide them indirectly and subtly to what you want them to do or believe. This has varying levels of difficulty, but it is easiest when you are clearly in the right. Reader beware: you are not usually clearly in the right, even if you think you are!
Now, I do want to point out that these things are often a lot harder to actually do than to put down in words — and conflict communication is a key example of that! Seriously, just try to explain your feelings logically to someone who’s screaming mad at you. This is further proof that theory is a lot different from application, and it’s the application you’ll need to learn yourself!