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Speak And Be Heard – The Power Of The Feedback Wheel


Whenever you are face to face with a partner who is in a state of upset and hurt, you have one goal, which is to help them come back into harmony with you. Back into closeness.

Even in the heat of the moment, remember that the person you're speaking to is someone you care about. And the reason you're speaking is to make things better. The subtext underneath the angry, retaliatory, or vengeful way your upset partner is behaving, is…"I want to get back to closeness with you and repair." Okay, so how do we do that?

4 Steps to Relational Repair

Here is one of my favorite tools as taught to me by Terry Real that repairs quickly. After all, do we want to spend 5 days not talking to each other, or making up, and enjoying a pleasant evening together while cuddling on the couch watching a movie?

The Feedback Wheel

It's brief, and it's only a couple of sentences.

The Disgruntled Speaker

Begin by contracting with your partner to do the process. This means checking in and finding out if now is a good time to talk. If not, find a comfortable time that suits both of you. Once you've both agreed to a time, keep your word and show up for your partner.

Then, take a breath and remember love. The person you're speaking to is not your enemy; it's someone you care about and wish to get close to again.

Use the following 4 steps:

  1. What I saw or heard.
  2. What I made up about it.
  3. How I feel about it.
  4. What I'd like.

Step 1: What I heard you say was that you'd be home by 7. You came in at 8. You didn't call or text. Also, you promised Timmy you'd pick him up after soccer practice today at 6 and you didn't show up.

Step 2: What I make up about that is that you still have some selfish, immature parts of you that privilege your time over ours. And you don't care about us that much.

Step 3: I feel angry, hurt, helpless, and lonely.

Step 4: I need you to apologize to me as well as to Timmy, and I'll like you to make a doctor's appointment to see if you need some ADD medication.

Deeper Dive

In step 1, you share what you saw or heard. You use brief sentences that simply relay the facts as you recall them.

With step 2. by using the phrase, "What I make up is…", you're really staying on your side of the line. You're sharing your experience of the events. If you say, you do this, that, or the other and it's making me crazy, you're being intrusive, and your partner will become shut down and defensive.

Step 3 is all about expressing what you feel. Feelings are usually one word. Try not to express your thoughts here. Don't express the story you made up. When you're not feeling triggered, try to identify your go-to feeling. This is the one that comes most naturally to you.

Here is a list of seven primary feelings that you may find helpful:

  • Joy
  • Pain
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Love.

And then of course, the all-important step 4 of repair. "Here's what you can do to make me feel better." You're not talking about your partner. You're only talking about you and your needs. What happened, what I made up, what I felt, what I'd like and you're done.

Now here's the thing with the feedback wheel. When you're done, you let go. You let go of the outcome. You are not dependent on what your partner does and how he/she responds.

And finally, express appreciation and gratitude to your partner for what you did get.

The Empathic Listener

What's the listener's role in all of this? Repair is not a dialogue, nor a conversation. You don't say, "Well, you're upset that I wasn't home on time, and I'm upset that I asked you to pick up my dry cleaning and you couldn't even do that!!" NO!! Repair is not a two-way street! You are at the service of your upset partner and you're generous!

Listen with Compassion

Begin by letting your partner know that you're listening. Let your partner know that you've heard them, and show that it has some importance to you. Put yourself aside, set reality aside, and enter into your partner's subjective experience with compassion. This is not about agreeing with your partner. It's about being with them. This is not about you. It's about them. So, how would this look?

Respond Generously

  • Acknowledge, what your partner's upset about. "Yes, I was late, I didn't call and I forgot to pick up Timmy. And yes, there is definitely a part of me that can be selfish at times. That's a character trait of mine and I'll work on it." Own it. No, yes buts, no explanations, just, "I did it. I'm sorry."
  • Give your partner what you can. "You're right. I apologize, I'm going to go upstairs and apologize to Timmy too and I'll look into ADD management options." Lead with agreement, not argument. Say what you will do, not what you won't.

Transmission-Reception Work

At this point, it's incumbent upon your partner to take it in and receive it with the appropriate response of "thank you." And you're back to closeness. That's the repair process.

Now you can generously invite your partner to use the feedback wheel while you offer sincere compassion and kindness. 

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