Metaphors Gone Wild: Vaults and Feedback

Interpersonal exchanges are a vault–the key to which is held by the best communicators. Those who understand that good communication is a fine art are constantly refining their artistic skills. In particular, they have mastered both the broad brush strokes and the more narrow lines produced by regular fine-line brushes. A few people even know how to employ the metaphoric air brush.


Here is yet another metaphor for you to consider when it comes to feedback: It is the gift that allows another person to keep on growing. Here are tips for delivering feedback–whether you want to make suggestions to a family member, co-worker, or friend.

–Have an objective for the exchange.

–Prepare in advance, whenever possible, in order to meet that objective.

–Determine the right message, the right time, the right place.

–Skip inappropriate humor, sarcasm, or belittling comments.

–Establish a comfortable atmosphere.

–Get to the point as quickly as you can.

–Deliver critical information as quickly as possible.

–Build in time at a later date for a discussion of the feedback given, assuming the recipient was open to hearing the feedback in the first place.

–Be attuned to body language.

–Encourage questions.

–Listen well.

–Stick to factual, not judgmental, statements.

–Have specific examples ready to explain your point.

–Keep the exchange focused on the most important issues.

–Demonstrate concern for the other person’s well-being. Do not bring in extraneous situations over which the person has no control.

–Try to avoid moralizing or making comparison to others.

–Check periodically to determine if the recipient understands/concurs with what you are saying.

–Make certain he other person knows you are ready, willing, and available to assist in any next steps.


Yep, another metaphor: The feedback process is a two-way street. Just as you offer feedback to help others improve, your own improvement is predicated in part on the feedback you receive. The following suggestions will help you optimize this process.

–Be direct. Say that you want to hear from the other person. If you don’t, wait until you are sincere in your request.

–Do not interrupt when other person shares his or her thoughts. Make notes to help you remember the points you want to make. Avoid cutting the other person off.

–Ask questions, when the time is right, to ensure you understand the message the other person is trying to deliver.

–Use both the “bird’s eye” and the “worm’s eye” approach. Sometimes a deliberately vague statement or overarching comment will elicit the information you need. At other times, you may need to ask a more detailed question, one that is closer to the metaphoric ground.

–Set up regular times for feedback sessions if the topic is important to your growth.

–Use silence well. Pauses often indicate the other person is looking for the best way to express a thought. Allow him or her that time.

–Don’t be defensive. We all have some improvements that should be made–we’re human after all. But… if the feedback you are receiving is hostile or if the speaker is becoming angry, suggest a break or postpone the exchange.

–Sketch out a plan of action indicating the steps you plan to take and a way to meet periodically for additional feedback sessions in the future.