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How to provide constructive feedback to someone in transition

I often talk about how you can follow your inspiration and find you path through times of change. This week I wanted to touch on a related subject, which is how you provide feedback or opinions to someone else who is going through change. This is a slightly longer post, but I hope you stay with me, as it’s a very important one!

I’m sure most of you have been in the situation where someone is sharing his/her big news with you. It could be their plans to start a family, moving overseas, changing jobs or starting a business, dating someone new or breaking up with someone. The list here is endless and as you know by now – change is the only constant thing in life!

But how do you share what you think in a constructive way? Because how you feel about the other person’s change will be based on a few things:

  • Your own values around what’s good, bad, important and irrelevant.
  • Your relationship with this person and what you know they have been through before. This will give you some kind of feeling of “I know what’s best for them!
  • The ‘proof’ you’ve seen elsewhere, i.e. other people who have tried this type of change and been successful or unsuccessful.

I read somewhere that if you can’t say anything kind, don’t say anything at all. I only think this is partly true. Sometimes we need to share a hard truth, but all the while being mindful of where that truth is coming from. Is it your view, a neutral fact or something else? Because there is another key thing here to consider – the timing of when you share how you feel about their new thing. As you know we can either:

  1. Tell them up front at the ideas/early stage before they’ve really started doing the change. This is what many consider the most honest way, but also remember that this is the stage where people can be very vulnerable and feel like you’re pooping all over their dream.
  2. Often we don’t believe people until they’ve started taking action, so your next opportunity to provide feedback is during the transition. This could be as they have decided to give that relationship a go, as they’re getting ready to quit or just arriving in their new place.
  3. The final opportunity for sharing is after something has already unfolded. This can be that time when someone’s business did not take off and they had to go back to the same old job or when a relationship has ended. This is NOT the time to say “I told you so” or anything even remotely connected to that. The only thing it will do is move that person away from you. They most likely already feel like a bit of a failure and as someone close to them, I’m pretty sure you don’t want that (or for that matter would like someone to do that to YOU either). So if you want to share in this space, do so with insightful questions like “How do you feel?” or “What did you learn from this experience?” or simply acknowledge them by saying “I’m sorry to hear that, it sounds like that not what you were hoping for. Let me know if I can help or support you in some way?”.

Towards the end of a big transition (regardless of the outcome) is also when we’re the most vulnerable. Kicking someone who is already down with your view of the world is usually not healthy or helpful. And we’ve all been at the receiving end of that at times – it bloody hurts! We’re very good at being our own worst judge most of the time and I think you’ll agree we don’t need anyone else to help us out with that. I can’t tell you how many friends and clients I’ve had this conversation with over the years.

I’m only human – just like you – so I don’t have the absolute answer, but I know this. You think you know what’s best for them. In reality you don’t. Regardless if you’re a friend, colleague, family member, partner or anything else that you’d deem very close – you just don’t know what’s best for them. Only they do. Even if you’ve been through the “same” thing.

What we need to learn is to share constructive thoughts, at one or a few times and always come back to the same point of love and compassion. If this is what matters to them now, they will do it whether you like/support it or not. So choose to be on their team, even if you think what they’re doing is a bit crazy. Because this is their choice and their life and not yours. 

I’ve had a big learning curve around this myself over the past year on many fronts and as I look back, I’m very grateful now in hindsight that it unfolded the way it did and taught me so much!

Because the final thing I learned is in many way the simplest one. Your role in 99.99% of the cases should simply be to be there for them and allow for the level of sharing and discussion that you’re comfortable with. If things unfold in a way that you’re personally very uncomfortable with, you’re also well within your right to take a break from what’s unfolding and step back. Because you guessed it – that change is going to happen with or without you. 🙂 Whether you give them your blessing or just your support and understanding is totally up to you and a decision you can choose to make on a case by case basis.

The bottom line is simple – if we spend most of our time on being a quality human being within ourselves and showing up in that way everywhere (at work and in all of our relationships) we’d live in a world of less conflict and judgment for sure.

Now I’m keen to hear from you! How have you navigated this sensitive topic?