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The Magical Meta-Feedback Question

Want to start a massive fight with your partner?

Here's one great place to begin. Give them feedback that is the exact opposite of what they hope to receive.

For instance, let's say they just had a hard day at work and want to vent about their boss who fancies himself as a kind of cubicle-ruling autocrat.

How can you turn this moment into a raging conflict?

Easy, interrupt your partner mid-rant with a laundry list of clever ideas and solutions to their problem.

You might say, "Well, have you thought about talking to HR?"

Or maybe, "Don't you think it would be useful to have a direct conversation with them about this?"

Lobbing these suggestions at your partner is the relationship equivalent of lobbing a live grenade at them.

In this particular moment, your partner doesn't want to hear your solutions. They don't want your coaching. They just want you to listen and say, "Wow! That sounds like a really hard day. I'm sorry."

But this is where things get complicated because your partner might not always want to vent. Sometimes they might actually want coaching. Sometimes they might want solutions or even challenger energy from you.

What's the way out of this feedback trap? 

We call it The Meta-Feedback Question

It's a question you can ask at the outset of the conversation that goes something like this...

"How do you want me to listen to you right now? As a coach? As a teammate? As a challenger? Or should I just hold the space while you vent?"

Asking this simple question shifts everything. It allows you to listen to your partner the way they want to be heard.

How can you put the meta-feedback question into practice? Try these tips.



1. Pause and ask the question.

After coaching and interviewing hundreds of couples, we've learned one essential truth about relationships: nobody has ESP.

So when your partner starts talking about something that feels truly important to them, you may not know how to listen.

Luckily, your mediocre telepathy skills don't have to be a problem.

Instead, you can use this moment as your cue to pause and ask the meta-feedback question: how do you want me to listen to you right now?


2. If they don't ask, make a request.

But let's say you're the one sharing and your partner is listening.

You might be thinking, All of this sounds well and good, but my partner would never ask me that question. What can I do then?

It's true. Especially at the outset, your partner might not deliver the meta-feedback question with perfect precision, or at all.

In these instances, you can make the request yourself. You can tell them from a spirit of radical generosity, "Right now, I'm not ready to look for solutions. What I most need from you is to listen as a teammate and just let me be pissed off."


3. Follow with appreciation.

Whether you're the speaker or the listener, the final move is to savor the gift of skillfully delivered feedback with an appreciation.

If you're the speaker, this might sound like, "I really appreciate how you heard my request to coach me through what I should do next."

If you are the listener, this might sound like, "I appreciate you for guiding me on how to give you the kind of feedback you most wanted to hear."

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