We have arrived at the final competency of healthy families: Members of the family can use others in the family as a source of feedback and learning, but not as an enemy.
Seeking feedback from others is risky business. Offered well, it can more easily be received without shame and defensiveness. I sometimes say, “If you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask the question.” However, if you want to grow, being open to feedback can be invaluable.
A counselor once observed to my partner, Brad, that she suspected he wasn’t open to feedback. “To the contrary,” he said. “I want to hear how others experience me, because I’m probably the aggregate of all their perceptions.”
Of course, one person and another may have the opposite impression of you, and it’s still your job to figure out what resonates with you. Perhaps you act differently with different people, as most of us do. Have you ever been arguing with someone and you find yourself answering the phone in a nice voice? The other person would have no idea how upset you were before you answered.
Seeking feedback from family members about how others experience you is especially risky, because we tend to want our family members to think more highly of us than anyone else. When we can trust that they will offer their feedback without judgment, however, we’re much more likely to seek them out with an open mind and heart.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Johari Window, a tool you can use to understand yourself and others. The Johari Window consists of four quadrants: 1) known to self; known to others; 2) known to self; not known to others; 3) not known to self; known to others; and 4) not known to self; not known to others. The more we can expand the first quadrant–by disclosing to others and by asking for feedback from others–the more intimate our relationships can be.
Secrecy vs. Privacy
Of course, everyone in a family needs to feel that they are free to disclose, but not required to. Some folks are naturally more private than others, and need the permission to share only as they desire. This isn’t the same as keeping secrets. Secrecy carries the intent to deceive; privacy carries the intent to be prudent with delicate information.
While seeking feedback about oneself can be risky but helpful, seeking feedback about another family member is riskier–a great way to start family warfare, in fact. A good rule of thumb: If it’s not your business don’t ask; if it is, ask the person directly. Seeking feedback about other people is simply triangulation, and is an attempt to create allies against a common enemy. Healthy family systems avoid such politics.
How Do You Rate?
So how does your family rate on the 12 competencies? Where do you see your own area of growth? What will you do to contribute your part to a healthy system?