I assume you have a reason for that

I’ve been pondering how to give feedback, especially when I disagree with the point or approach.

This has cropped up because I’m involved in a preaching group — workshopping a different person’s sermon each week — as well our fourth year Issues in Theology class — which consists almost entirely in listening and responding to presentations by class members often dealing with topics of particular pastoral interest (e.g., sin in the life of a believer, the problem of evil, the environment).

My tendency when confronted with disagreement is to say nothing for as long as I can. With the result that minor annoyances quickly become major frustrations — even more so because no-one else picks them up! Needless to say, this Dam It Up Until I Can’t Hold It Back approach is hardly constructive. Nor has it won the love and admiration of my peers.

I really want to improve at this. So I plan to follow the advice of a very wise colleague: assume the person I’m giving feedback to has a reason for what they said.

This puts flesh on the bones of the principle, ‘Don’t get frustrated, get fascinated’. Better, it allows for a thoroughly Christian approach to giving feedback. It lets you explicitly and directly challenge the point you disagree with — and be completely honest about disagreeing. Yet it keeps you humble enough to be taught. Rather than initiating a cycle of attack and counter-attack, it functions as an invitation to enter a conversation.

Can you imagine how differently things might unfold if I gave feedback like this?

I was interested to see that you said this/took this approach, where others may have made another point or approached it a different way; I’d love to hear about why you headed down the path you took…

Fremantle, WA (April 2009)

Fremantle, WA (April 2009)


  1. In the ‘rulebook for argument’ (i think it’s called that) we are using in philosophy, there’s a great quote which says if you can’t understand why someone is holding to a position, you haven’t really understood them.

  2. of course they do know that when you say that, you’re really saying, ‘tell me what steps you’ve thought through to make your (obviously false) conclusion, so that i can show you where you’ve gone wrong.’

    i don’t think they’re really fooled.
    maybe it would be more honest to say, ‘i disagree – tell me how you think my reasoning’s flawed.’

    dunno, just thinking it thru.

    1. That’s a helpful caution Doug. Although, I’m not sure it’s quite where I’m wanting to go with this… I don’t imagine that these are magic words that make the lobbing the hand grenade of straight out disagreement somehow more tactful or subtle. There’s nothing subtle about a hand grenade!

      I guess I do want to be honest about my disagreement. But I’m more interested in ‘retraining’ my own attitude when faced with disagreement — rather than wading into the fray intent on winning, I want to learn how to enter into a conversation in which we can robustly express our views and still move things forward productively. Does that make sense?

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