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Effective communication: The Feedback Wheel

September 30, 2011

Ah, communication. We hear so much about it these days, don’t we? And yet, when it really comes down to it, do we really KNOW what it means? Can we really define that all-encompassing word: communication? It’s hard, isn’t it? And it’s probably even harder to actually practice it. But one of the models that I find myself using most often, one that is actually practice-able, is the Feedback Wheel.

Besides being simple enough to remember, it’s a model that empowers its user to take responsibility for his/her actions, thoughts, and emotions and ask for what he/she needs {one of THE most important things to learn in relationships}. It also helps the couple stay on track and on topic–throwing in the kitchen sink is a common term used in the counseling world and a big no-no.

The Feedback Wheel, as devised by Terrance Real, includes four steps:

  1. What you saw or heard about the event in question.
  2. What you “made up” about the situation.
  3. How you feel about it.
  4. What you would like to have happen in the future.

The first step requires that you stick to the FACTS–the observable behaviors of both you and your partner. It requires you to be objective and sets the tone for the conversation. You’re starting off unbiased and non-blaming which helps your partner remain open to what you have to say.

The second step is your subjective interpretation of the facts. What did your significant other’s behaviors mean to you? How did you interpret his words? What did you make of her gestures? Taking responsibility for how you interpret the event, how you assign meaning to it, acknowledges your role in the situation. There is still value in your interpretation–it doesn’t mean that your partner can shrug it off since you “made it up.” It just means you’re taking ownership of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Step three takes your interpretation a bit further and assigns feelings to it. First, there were the facts of the situation {e.g., we went to that party, we were standing talking to our two friends, you said such-and-such, and everyone laughed}. Second, there was your interpretation of the facts {e.g., when you said that, I took it to mean this}. Third is your acknowledgement of how it made you feel {e.g., because I took it to mean this, I THEN felt resentful and hurt}. It’s important to stop and differentiate between feelings and beliefs here since we often state beliefs when we say, “I feel.” Example:

Belief: It made me feel as though you thought I was stupid.

Feeling: It made me feel shameful/sad/angry.

Beliefs are interpretations–and they can often be construed as blaming. Feelings are the actual emotions you felt in the situation–what came up for you in the moment.

The fourth, and final, step invites change but it does so clearly–with specific actions. It also requires that you ask for what you need. Your partner may have hurt you but the punishment isn’t that he/she must magically guess what needs to happen in the future. That’s still your job. You got upset, yes. And you’d like your partner to make you feel better, sure. But ultimately we are each responsible for making ourselves feel better. You are responsible for moving beyond your hurt and asking your significant other what he/she can do to help you in that process.

As much as I like this model and think it’s achievable, I never, ever promise that learning it–DOING it–is easy. It’s not. And it’s not fool-proof either. I think the important things to remember, though, in terms of effective communication, are that 1) starting a conversation by acknowledging your role in the conflict will put you in a better position for a positive outcome, 2) it’s important that you first understand how the situation made you feel in order to discuss it, and 3) you must learn to ASK for what you need. Always.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Stephanie Myers permalink
    October 6, 2011 12:38 pm

    Hi i’m friends with your husbands mother. I work with her. I just wanted to say first, I love your website; It has such great ideas and pictures, which when you’re planning your own wedding it’s tough, so it’s nice to have a good web site that shows lots of pictures and ideas and advise. And second, you’re wedding was beautiful! You can tell a lot of planning went into it. I couldn’t agree more with you on your own wedding that you are planning is your baby and it does take a lot of time to process that whole thing.
    But every moment was worth it.
    Thanks for sharing.


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