Communication through Feedback: Couple Differences about Toilet Paper on a Shoe

Imagine you attended a business event and spotted an acquaintance wearing an outstanding pair of shoes and— trailing toilet paper stuck to them. What would you do?

When I coach couples with dissimilar communication styles, I pose this scenario to gain a better understanding of their values and habits regarding feedback. The great toilet paper debate is a springboard to the broader question. We discuss and compare their self projected communication output with others to patterns they describe with each other. How does feedback to others contrast and compare with what occurs between them?

The he said/she said—or gender— choices vary. Yet one striking set of answers occurs frequently:

  • He said, “I wouldn’t say anything.”

The man confessed he would not risk embarrassing the individual.  He admitted he would bypass providing a genuine compliment because, even without mention of the toilet paper, his feedback posed an unacceptable gamble of being offensive. He agreed his choice reflected his own preference if he was the potential target of the feedback. He would not want someone to bring the toilet paper to his attention.

  •  She said, “I would not hesitate to say ‘that’s a great pair of shoes and they will look even better when you remove those four feet of toilet paper trailing behind you’.”

She indicated she would be relaxed with her response and comfortable with however the receiver handled it.

Haven’t many of us faced a similar “toilet paper” type issue? What have you done? And as a person with trailing toilet paper, what would you want people to tell you?

In couple communications, attitudes about compliments and the line between negative and constructive feedback are important. Couples often are not clear/do not agree on the difference between the two. The result is a history of conflict, poor communication, or incomplete communication.

In this next week, initiate a discussion with your partner, good friend, or close colleague. Discover similarities and differences in values or habits regarding compliments, constructive feedback, sensitivity to criticism, and other feedback issues. Your communication will improve.

Push back with your opinions and experiences. What do you think?

 © Copyright 2012 P.H. Pickett, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

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