Posts published on July 2015

The Truth About Negative Feedback: It’s Not Just About You

Feedback, Growth Mindset

Most of us mistakenly believe that the labels and judgments we get from other people concern only ourselves. Actually, they reveal a lot about the people who made them.

Criticism is people’s way of hinting at their unresolved feelings and unmet needs. A person who calls you insensitive may be (awkwardly) asking for your affection.

“Well, if that’s what they want,” you may ask, “why don’t they just say so?”

Short answer: because it’s hard. Most of us aren’t in touch with how we feel, and those of us who are don’t always know how to articulate it.

Get better at expressing your feelings

On top of that, saying how we truly feel makes us vulnerable, something we’ve learned to think of as negative. So, instead of admitting we’re sad, scared, frustrated, angry, jealous or disappointed, we talk about how bad other people, and all the things they are doing, are.

Learn to give negative feedback

With needs, it’s the same story. We weren’t trained to think in terms of needs; instead, we learned to think about what is wrong with other people whenever our needs are not being met. So, if we need peace and quiet to concentrate on our work at the office, for example, we’ll think of anyone who laughs and talks loudly around our desks as rude and obnoxious.

Looking at criticism as a reflection of people’s needs and emotions helps us deal with it more productively. It also makes us more empathetic.

So let’s imagine that a good friend tells you, “You’re the most selfish person I know.”

You may react by:

1)   Blaming yourself
“Wow, I must be a really bad friend!”

2)   Blaming your friend
“You can’t say that! I’m always doing you favors! YOU’RE the one who’s selfish!”

3)   Expressing your own feelings and needs
“I’m really hurt to hear you say that, because I need some acknowledgment for all the times I’ve considered what you wanted, too.”

Blaming yourself makes you feel guilty, ashamed, and depressed —all of which are bad for your self-esteem. Blaming the other person doesn’t help and can end up ruining the relationship. Finally, simply expressing your feelings while ignoring the other person’s won’t improve the situation.

The counter-intuitive, but more proactive way to respond is:

4)   Helping the other person express how they feel and what their needs are
“Are you upset because you’d like me to ask you about your preferences more?”

If you want to help the other person and learn something useful in the process, go with #4.

How to give good “bad” feedback

Feedback, Social Skills

We all need honesty in our lives. Together with love, acceptance, empathy, and encouragement, honesty helps fulfill our basic human need of interdependence. Yet we rarely get the kind of honesty that empowers us and helps us learn from our limitations. Instead, we get criticism.

Criticism doesn’t tend to be helpful, and it rarely works. When our mothers tell us we dress like slobs, we may get annoyed, angry, or defensive, but we’re rarely inspired to change our wardrobe.

Perhaps one of the reasons is that criticism focuses so much on the receiver. The critic rarely tries to demonstrate how his feelings and needs are connected to what he’s criticizing, so it’s hard for the person receiving the feedback to have empathy to really listen.

So how do we give negative feedback positively? How do we give the people we care about the type of honesty they need to grow?

Marshall Rosenberg’s “nonviolent communication” teaches us to include an observation, a feeling, a need, and a request in our negative feedback, as explained below:

Observation: be specific about what you see

Giving (good) bad feedback requires paying attention. You have to be able to specifically describe what the other person is doing that is bothering you, and, if possible, to say when, where, and how. Most importantly, you have to be able to do this without judging or evaluating. Saying “You cancelled our last three dates ” is an observation, saying “You’re a flake” is an evaluation.

Feeling: show vulnerability

Identify what feelings you have about the situation. When you see the other person do the specific thing that bothers you, do you get nervous? Annoyed? Sad? Scared? Furious? Most of us have trouble figuring out how we feel. We also tend to confuse thoughts with feelings —we say things like, “I ‘feel’ like a failure” or “I ‘feel’ like this person is manipulating me” without realizing we’re not really saying how we feel. Another common mistake is to confuse our feelings with how we think others behave towards us. “Feeling” rejected, misunderstood, ignored or threatened reflects how we think others treat us, not how we feel.

Spot your exact feeling on our emotional cheat sheet

Need: recognize what you are lacking

After you identify how you truly feel, ask yourself what unfulfilled need might be at the root of that feeling. Judgments, evaluations and interpretations of others are actually expressions of personal needs not being met. For example, calling your partner “lazy” may simply mean that you need more help around the house.

Request: ask for something concrete

Once you’ve figured out what you need, it’s time to ask the person you’re giving feedback to for something specific, a concrete action. Use positive language (say what the person should do rather than what he or she should not do) and be as clear and precise as possible.

With the incorporation of observation, feeling, need and request, good “bad” feedback sounds like this:

When you cancel our plans at the last minute like you did tonight —and last Tuesday—, I’m disappointed, because I really look forward to us spending more time together. Would you be willing to set a day for us to meet every week?

When giving negative feedback, remember: your goal should not be to change the other person or their behavior to get what you want, but to develop relationships based on honesty and empathy, where everyone’s needs are met.

5 Things About You That Are Obvious To Most People In Just 10 Seconds

First Impressions, Personality

Have you ever made an effort to conceal something from your friends, only to find out later that what you were trying to hide was obvious to them from the start?

If you think only they can read you like that, think again. Studies show that even strangers can tell a great deal about you from observing you for just 10 seconds.

Researchers call it “thin slice vision”. It involves quickly —and accurately— extracting personal information from nonverbal cues (i.e., body language).

Thin slice vision is possible because, while we can easily control what we say, we can’t as easily control our facial expressions or how we move. Yet these non-verbal cues say a lot about our emotions, dispositions, internal goals and motives, and social relationships.

By looking at you for at least 10 seconds (and no longer than 5 minutes), a stranger can make accurate inferences about your:

  1. Personality traits

Strangers can easily tell whether you’re extraverted or introverted —and much more. Researchers Borkneau and Liebler asked a group of people (let’s call them group A) to answer questions about their personalities. Then, they filmed each of them reading a weather report. They later showed the video, on mute, to another group of people (we’ll call them group B), who answered questions about the personalities of members of group A. The answers group B gave matched the answers that members of group A had given themselves.

  1. Mood

In one study, researchers had people watch a silent video containing segments of admission interviews at a psychiatric hospital. Half the patients in the video were being admitted for depression, half for other reasons. Then, they asked spectators to point out who was being admitted for depression. They answered correctly 88% of the time.

  1. Sexual orientation

Sexual preferences are visible from thin slices. Researchers videotaped heterosexuals and homosexuals discussing topics not related to sex (e.g., the demands of academic and extracurricular activities). Then, they showed 10- and 1-second silent flashes of these videos to a group of volunteers, who were asked to judge the participants’ sexual orientation.  Again, answers were accurate most of the time.

  1. Biased attitudes

Can people tell, using visual nonverbal cues, whether a teacher is likely to be biased? A researcher answered this question by getting high school students to view a 10-second silent clip of teachers they didn’t know giving a lecture to a class full of students. Then, he asked them to rate the extent to which teacher could be expected to treat high- and low-achieving students equally during a one-on-one interaction. Their ratings matched those of each teacher’s own students.

  1. Intelligence

Strangers can infer the IQ of someone using one visual cue, according to one recent study: the eye gaze while speaking. Intelligent people gaze more at the people they’re talking to; people who gaze more at the people they’re talking to are generally perceived as more intelligent.

And you thought you could fool people.

How Are You Feeling? Your (Surprisingly Detailed) Emotional Cheat Sheet

Emotional Intelligence, Emotions

You may be feeling jittery, jealous, furious, frazzled, panic-stricken, petrified, lonely, bewildered. If someone asks you how you’re feeling, chances are you’ll say “awful”, or another vague word that won’t communicate your specific emotion.

Expressing our feelings can be harder than it seems. Most of us aren’t always in touch with how we feel, and even when we are, we don’t always know how to articulate our emotions. On top of that, saying how we truly feel makes us vulnerable, something we’ve learned to think of as negative.

But learning to identify and name our feelings helps us gain self-awareness, improves our communication, and increases our chances of getting exactly what we need. When we know how we truly feel and can articulate it,  we’re better able to help ourselves and get help from others. We’re also better able express gratitude.

To be specific about how you feel, you first need to know the wide range of emotions you can experience. Use this detailed list (created by Center for Nonviolent Communication), to expand your emotional vocabulary:


Friendly, affectionate, compassionate, loving, open-hearted, sympathetic, tender, warm

Curious, absorbed, alert, curious, engrossed, enchanted, engaged, entranced, fascinated, intrigued, interested, involved, spellbound, stimulated, hopeful

Confident, empowered, open, proud, safe, secure

Excited, amazed, animated, ardent, aroused, astonished, dazzled, eager, energetic, enthusiastic, giddy, invigorated, lively, passionate, surprised, vibrant

Grateful, appreciative, moved, thankful, touched

Inspired, amazed, awed

Happy, amused, delighted, glad, joyful, jubilant, pleased, tickled

Hopeful, expectant, encouraged, optimistic

Calm, clear-headed, comfortable, centered, equanimous, fulfilled, mellow, peaceful, quiet, relaxed, relieved, satisfied, serene, still, tranquil, trusting

Refreshed, enlivened, rejuvenated, renewed, rested, restored, revived 


Afraid, apprehensive, foreboding, frightened, mistrustful, panicked, scared, suspicious, terrified, wary, worried

Annoyed, aggravated, dismayed, disgruntled, displeased, exasperated, frustrated, impatient, irritated, irked

Angry, enraged, furious, incensed, indignant, irate, livid, outraged, resentful

Disgusted, appalled, horrified, hostile, repulsed

Confused, ambivalent, baffled, bewildered, dazed, hesitant, lost, mystified, perplexed, puzzled, torn

Bored, alienated, aloof, apathetic, bored, cold, detached, disconnected, distant, distracted, indifferent, numb, removed, uninterested, withdrawn

Upset, alarmed, discombobulated, disturbed, perturbed, rattled, restless, shocked, startled, surprised, troubled, turbulent, turmoil, uncomfortable, uneasy, unnerved, unsettled

Embarrassed, ashamed, chagrined, flustered, guilty, mortified, self-conscious

Anguished, bereaved, devastated, heartbroken, hurt, lonely, miserable, regretful, remorseful

Sad, depressed, dejected, despaired, despondent, disappointed, discouraged, disheartened, forlorn, gloomy, heavy-hearted, hopeless, melancholy, unhappy, wretched

Anxious, cranky, distressed, distraught, edgy, fidgety, frazzled, irritable, jittery, nervous, overwhelmed, restless, stressed out

Helpless, fragile, guarded, insecure, leery, reserved, sensitive, shaky, vulnerable

Jealous, envious, nostalgic, wistful

Now stop for a moment and ask yourself, how am I really feeling? 

© 2005 by Center for Nonviolent Communication |  Website: |  Email:  | Phone: +1.505.244.4041

Why You’re Wrong About How Creative and Intelligent You Are (and other key things, too)

Friendship, Personality
Next time you find yourself complaining about how little intelligence or creativity you have, see if your friends agree. Washington University study showed that friends are better at assessing our intelligence and creativity than we are.

The reason, according to Simine Vazire, the researcher behind the study, is that the high value we place on these two traits makes us too emotionally invested to rate ourselves accurately. Instead, we lean towards self-enhancement…or self-diminishment.

Our friends, who are not as attached to the identities we create for ourselves, are able to see us more clearly.

The same rule goes for other traits we tend to think of as desirable, according to Vazire. For example, our level of physical attractiveness, or how interesting a person we are, is more realistically assessed by our friends (and research suggests that most of us see ourselves as less attractive and less interesting than we really are.)

Friends also tend to be right when they judge us on traits that can be easily spotted from our facial expressions or how we move, like how extraverted we are, says the research. But when it comes to interpreting body language, closeness isn’t even that important. Strangers can tell just as much as friends.

See what strangers can accurately guess after looking at you for just 10 seconds.

Are we privileged at all when it comes to knowing our own selves? According to the study, we’re generally better at judging traits that express themselves more internally than externally —our levels of happiness, anxiety and self-esteem, for example.

But, as you probably guessed, close friends are able to see even these more subtle aspects of our personality.