How To Give Your Guy Feedback Without Getting Into Arguments

how to give positive feedbackWhat does the term “feedback” mean to you? If you’re like most people, you think of it as a tool for repair. You give your boyfriend feedback to fix something.

Feedback is generally used as a method of telling people what they have done wrong and what they need to do to fix it. As you and I both know, people don’t enjoy being told what they have done wrong.

It’s not that we are children who can’t tolerate the experience. We often try to be tough and accept negative feedback with an open mind.

But even then, we can only tolerate so much before the dam breaks and our frustration pours forth as a wave of counter criticisms in argumentative tones.

In the vast majority of situations, feedback can be given in positive terms almost as easily as it can be given in negative terms. Let’s look at an example.

You’re trying to teach your twelve-year-old niece how to play tennis. Here are a few bits of negative feedback you could give her:

“Stop hesitating as you approach the ball.”

“Don’t wait to see where the ball is going before you reposition on the court.”

You could just as easily phrase this feedback in positive terms, like this:

“That last swing was more powerful because you charged the ball and didn’t hesitate on your swing.”

“You are moving well on the court. You are really fast, and you could have a really big advantage if you put that speed to use by repositioning yourself on the court as soon as you strike the ball. ”

No guy is going to be perfect. Good relationships are going to require feedback. However, feedback often turns into arguments. It’s not a perfect solution, but it helps a lot when you phrase your feedback in positive terms.

The problem is, we only think of giving feedback when we are bothered by something. Our negative emotion serves as the cue that reminds us that we have been meaning to talk to Bill about his frustrating habit of…fill in the blank.

As a result, positive feedback takes a little more effort. Half the battle is catching him doing something right, and then going out of your way to tell him how much you appreciate it.

Recent research in the field of positive psychology has found that people often have a lot more room for growth than we give them credit for. One of the keys for personal growth is positive feedback about what you’re doing right.

The key is being specific. If you say to your niece, “Great swing!” she knows you approve, but she doesn’t know what you approve of in particular. She can’t replicate her success because she doesn’t know what she did that was successful.

If you want to give your guy positive feedback to change his habit of leaving all the date plans for you to initiate, you’ve got to be specific when he finally plans something. Saying something vague like, “Thanks for taking good care of me,” just won’t cut it. He will feel good, but he won’t know what you are talking about.

how to give positive feedbackInstead, say something in the middle of your date as you are sitting across from him in a restaurant. Say something like, “Bill, I think I am particularly enjoying this date because in the back of my mind I know you went out of your way to plan it. It really means a lot to me, and for some reason it makes me feel especially loved when you initiate plans for a date with me. I’m thoroughly enjoying this date.”

What do you do if he never initiates anything? How do you complement someone for something they almost never do?

Keeping with the example from above, you would ask him where he wants to go out to eat. When he leaves it up to you, insist that he make the decision. When he finally makes the decision, say, “it makes me feel good when you participate in planning things for us to do together. I know you don’t really care that much which place we eat at, but it means something to me that you’re willing to tell me your preference, even if it’s only a mild preference.”

That’s pretty wordy, huh? But that’s the point! You want to give him detailed feedback on what he did correct. You can gradually shape a guy’s behavior by giving him hints and tips through positive feedback rather than negative feedback.

Does this method work for every situation or problem? No. But don’t rule it out just because it’s not as convenient. You’ll often get better results if you practice patience with positive feedback.

I really appreciate the way you read all the way to the end of my emails! =)


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16 thoughts on “How To Give Your Guy Feedback Without Getting Into Arguments

  1. Michelle said:

    Yep James your info is great. Trustworthy and reliable. I much prefer reading something from you than any of your ‘colleagues’

  2. michele said:

    You’re welcome. Thank you for the time you take to create these blogs. I don’t read all of them; for instance I don’t read the ones which have titles which sound negative to me – like “What he’s not telling you.” I could care less about what he’s not telling me. I’m more interested in positive titles; which is why I read this one. I think I can use the information with coworkers as well as a significant other (if I had one) However, I’m sure lots of people have a different opinion, probably because they are in relationships :-). Anyway, thanks for all you do.

  3. Karen said:

    You’re amazing. Thank you. That’s all I’ve got to say 🙂

  4. kabang'u said:

    Thanks James, your posts teach so much. Most of my questions get answered just by reading what you write.
    I’m in a long distance relationship (we work in different towns) and sometimes little things easily get blown out of proportion and since we don’t see each other much, giving feedback without arguing is tough.
    I have been with him for a year now and like most relationships, the “newness” wore off and he doesn’t communicate as much anymore.
    I want him to communicate more with me, how do i give him feedback without accusing?

    • James Bauer said:

      It’s tricky, isn’t it? I suggest you start with discussion of some of the things you have enjoyed about the relationship. Tell him what you have enjoyed and ask him what moments or routines are satisfying to him. Then ask him if he would tell you if there was one simple thing you could work on to make things better for him. After that discussion you have “earned” the right to be heard (without defensiveness) regarding a way he could improve things for you.

  5. Chantal said:

    I think positive feedback is vital and that I’m lacking in it. When I try to tell my partner what I don’t like he becomes sensitive.For example he was talking to a female so I waited til they done before I came to him. I joked that he was chatting and laughed and told him that I’m just kidding but one of the things I heard him say seemed flirty. He got so upset and said I see him as a flirting bastard.I’m trying to explain i was not upset I was just telling me something I thought he could out for. He said he is frustrated with always feeling he is a suspect of wrong actions.
    What should I have done instead?

    • James Bauer said:

      Great question, Chantal, but I’m sorry to hear about the frustrating interaction with you guy. Let me first remind you that you are only responsible for your half of the interaction. You can do everything right and still have a guy react badly if he is not putting forth effort or if he is emotionally immature or just highly sensitive to criticism. With that said, let’s look at an alternative way to approach your situation (for future reference).

      Generally speaking, it’s best to frame criticism to a romantic partner in a way that makes it about you and your feelings with the addition of a request for him to essentially be your hero by saving you from some negative emotion. This makes it more likely that you will see a positive change in him (and less likely that you will just get a defensive or hostile reaction). Here’s an example for your situation. “You know, I think I might like you too much.”
      Him: “Too much? Why too much?
      You: “Because I get jealous sometimes over little stuff.”
      Him: “Oh. You’re sweet. Was it that girl I was talking to a minute ago.”
      You: “Yeah.” (notice the lack of criticism here and no specifics about what he did wrong)
      Him: “Well, I wasn’t flirting with her or anything.”
      You: “I know you wouldn’t, but it makes me feel a bit insecure when you say things like…(whatever it was he said that sounded flirty).”
      Him: “Oh, you took it the wrong way.”
      You: “Still, since you love me (smiling) will you protect me from feeling insecure by not saying that sort of thing to other women?”
      Him: “Sure, if it makes you feel better.”

      Hope that gives you some ideas.


  6. Kimberlay Kiernan said:

    Great series. You rock James. I totally enjoy your posts and notes!!!

  7. K said:

    What do you mean, James, by saying that you are thankful?
    It is us, in this case me, being really thankful that you do day after day week after week (and I do imagine there come weeks you kind of don’t feel like writing) bring forth the content that counts#adds value#improves our actions if we only care to listen.
    I enjoy every single of your posts and they are my priority to read when found in e box.
    And your first line-> a stylish invitation to learning together completely polite and non pushy? You made the effort that at least in my world counts big time.
    All the best.

  8. Hi James,

    THANK YOU for your help. I have been re-reading your reply and contemplating its truths.
    Yes, you are so right. He will shift instinctually, pull towards tension, conflict. I, on the other hand, will instinctually move toward calm, seek to reduce the tension. And yes, it takes a fine and noble man to be as real with me as he has been about this issue. I am in awe of his transparency. Perhaps I could use those words with him sometime to positively affirm him.

    Thank you for explaining what “hot” emotions are compared to when at later times things cool down and insights are derived. It sounds very daunting to me to try and target those “hot emotions” with the goal of enacting neurological changes to get wired into those behavior patterns that fire when he feels agitated, triggered. If I can gently call it out to him with a word, or even what has worked in the past and I did not realize what I was doing, give a gentle touch to his arm, I will be so happy because with practice over time both he and I will have hope.

    Thank you ever so much for this hope. Thank you for this map. He has quite a traveling schedule so I have the time to read, re-read and pray. It doesn’t look really easy to me at this moment. When those “hot emotions” kick in, it sure gives me a start. But I have a feeling of relief now. I am not as afraid. You have laid out a path where I can go, even if it is in baby steps. God bless you for this hope.

  9. Hi James,

    Thank you for everything you do. I need some help with how to give feedback. To be honest I am feeling broken hearted over my inability to approach this issue. The man in my life has asked me for feedback. I know he is suffering over it. He has issues with impatience. There have been moments where when his impatience has unexpectedly surfaced I have given him the “deer in the head lamp” look. He is a good man and I know he is bearing up against formidable career issues. He is a fine leader and this impasse in his career breaks my heart. The pressure, which I feel of course is unfair, really affects him. I feel so bad about that injustice. I know he is in a sort of silent prison about it. The tension seems to show up as displacement activity – tension, shortness of patience. He puts so much special time aside to make special times for us to go out. I so appreciate how he does this. I write him thank you notes and write specifically to delineate how lovely the restaurant was, or how wonderful the event was. He is a good and wonderful man. I can’t tell you how I feel when I am with him. So, as I say, the issue with his temper/impatience breaking through breaks my heart. He has really asked me for feedback. I feel I have let him down in this issue. I get scared. I know he sees me shrink in fear when it happens then he feels lost. When he honestly asked me for feedback (guess I wasn’t talking), I was very moved by his decency, his honor, his humility. I have gently written to him, letting him know that, yes, he can be hard but when I see the compassion in his face I feel so much better. Sometimes he sees a hurt look on my face from a coarse comment that he has made, then he catches himself, all of a sudden and seeing my face, then he realizes what has happened. I feel he is trapped in this spurting out of frustration that he has. It happens then he too is dismayed.

    It is hard to really get to know someone, in courtship. But I do believe that sorting this out before any commitment should occur is the best thing. I know I would feel so upset if this were a regular occurrence in a committed relationship. I know too that he has humbly asked for help with this while we are getting to know one another. I respect him so much for this.

    So to further express how he struggles with this, he honestly expressed to me how he battled and warred with his siblings as he grew up, and still does to this day. I know he has been trying to sort it out. FYI, I, on the other hand, grew up without brothers or sisters. I find heavily conflicted angry encounters to be frightening. I shut down from fear, stuff my feelings. All that being said, would you please offer some advice on how I might better reach him on this, give him the feedback that would help? I feel I have not been giving him feedback he sincerely needs and has genuinely asked for. He is such a decent man . I wish to offer balance and support and caring. As you have in your writings, a woman can do this for a man. I believe in my heart that what you write is true. But I don’t really know how to do it, my heart nearly stops when I am afraid. If he becomes agitated I seem to be able to do nothing on the spot. I later do write him. The healing process has been slow, but at least I can say that by not reacting on the spot I pray I have avoided damage and hurt. It does say, I believe it is in the Book of Wisdom that “the power of life and death is in words.” So at least I have not crossed that line. But I am broken hearted with the situation. I feel blocked when it happens and lame to help, to actually help him as he so decently asked (for feedback). I am shy, afraid of direct confrontation but have a willing heart. I do not believe it would be right to suggest he get therapy. That to me sounds like criticizing him. He already had enough strain from his career situation. And he still battles with his older brothers and sisters in terms of criticism. I do not wish to give harm. I do wish to do good. What do you recommend? You seem to have a good technology of words, new ways to break barriers. I need the help. I hope you will share with me how these innovations might help. I may be able to write it better than speak it to him.

    Thank you for being there.

    • James Bauer said:

      Dear Avid Follower and Lady,

      I usually do not accept questions this long on the forum, but your kindness and noble spirit drew me in and I could not help but reply. Several thoughts arose in my mind as I read about your situation and your questions. First, let me agree with you regarding a commitment. It should wait until the relationship is in a state that you would be comfortable living with for the long term. Never commit (or marry) based on the idea that you can change a man. You seem to realize that, but I just wanted to reaffirm your stance.

      That said, there are few men who have the insight and noble inclination needed to admit fault and ask for help. That speaks to the goodness in him that you love so much. It’s okay to love the good in him even when you find that good sometimes overwhelmed by his instinctual anger and fighting instinct. Be cautious about assuming his work circumstances and sibling relationships have caused a pent up anger you now see. It is far more common that people with anger and stronger than average fighting instincts accidentally create tension than suddenly find themselves the victims of tense relationships. People like you let those situations roll off and you shift to reduce the tension as a focal point in your life. His tendency will be the opposite. His attention and focus will orbit around the gravitational pull for conflict (not entirely, but to a degree that is greater than for others).

      Nonetheless, you are looking for ways to embrace this man for the wonderful qualities he has. Here is what I recommend.

      Start with an agreement that there will be a code word for moments when he becomes angry. The code word will signify a previous conversation; one that involves a plan for increasing his self-control. Learning to control anger of this sort only occurs when emotions are “hot” meaning they are live emotions. This is different than the insight he already has…which comes later upon self-analysis once he has cooled down.

      We are trying to target “hot emotions” so that neurological changes can become wired into the same behavioral patterns that are firing at the moments when he feels agitated and begins to lose perspective.

      The code word will remind him of what he must try to do when you begin to sense his growing anger and reflect it back to him. What must he do? He must mentally change course and practice naming the mental state he is in so he can gain perspective and shift toward compassion. Succeeding in anger management is not easy and must be practiced “live” many times before progress is made, so be patient so long as he is showing effort. Over time, the mental act of naming the state of anger and shifting to compassion (compassion is like a fire extinguisher for anger) will allow him to develop and awareness of the anger as it emerges. He will become able to detect the anger quicker and quicker…sooner in the process of the anger rising to the surface to explode at people who should not have been the targets for the anger. In time, this increasing awareness will allow him to abort the expressions of irrational agitation before they occur.

      Have a conversation with him in which you ask him to practice naming the mental state and then quickly thinking compassionate thoughts toward himself and others as quickly as possible. Agree on a code word or phrase, like “light bulb,” for example, and then go back to living life until the first “opportunity” for practice arises.


  10. Fonda said:

    Hi James ,

    Great article im learning alot from . I really like the great illustation !! To see if i learned something from it & in how to apply it may I ask about idea I got on listening to Jane’s story . Could she compliment the caring way she sees her husband treat others and say afterwards in a positive upbeat way how she would love the same treatment from him .

    Is that good positive productive effective feedback like you are talking about?

    • James Bauer said:

      I really like that, Fonda. Though you will have to be cautious in how you phrase it so it does not sound like an accusation. You would want to make is sound like two separate thoughts.
      1. “Wow, you are so sweet and caring and you really make people feel good about themselves.”

      Pause…for him to respond. Act like you are really done talking, not just holding your breath for a second before finishing…

      2. “Would you think I was being selfish if I admitted to a desire to get a little more of those warm sorts of interactions for myself?”

  11. JANE JUMA said:

    James, thanks for this. My man (husband of 33 years) never initiates anything and when I do he flatly refuses with excuses: I don’t have money etc. Actually the only time were out together was in 2001 when we went for our honeymoon. He burries himself in his work and when we talk, it is nothing personal. it is either the church (he is a pastor), politics, the weather. I am just tired and bored with the lack of affection and romance. Our roof is leaking for more than 5 years now; when I told him about a mason who could fix it at Kshs.50,000; he offered someone related to a lady in his past. What am i doing wrong here?

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Jane. Pastors often get burned out in their effort to give to the congregation. On top of that, they get socially warn out when they spend a lot of time in various social roles as pastor. This leaves little energy for those who should come first in their lives. The article about giving feedback targets my best advice. Give him feedback about what the relationship needs in order to thrive. Ask him not to stretch himself further (by giving to you) but to reevaluate his priorities and spend his emotional energy in the places where it has the highest leverage (at home), giving work-energy to his role in the church. He may need you to be very clear with him about the way you have felt neglected and hurt, but always mix that communication with a message of hope for how things could improve, how all is not lost.

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