Feedback – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Tom Cornille

The Good

The past few days have been pretty intense: on Friday, my partner Tom gave a one-day masterclass for a small group of facilitators that wanted to hone their facilitation skills in a Non-Violent Communication context. I was one of the participants in a small group of 6 that took the course. Much of the day was spent reflecting on what works well/not so well in our experience and in practicing our skills. After each practice, there was a moment of feedback, so it took quite some guts to kind of try your hand at something and hear the others reflect back pretty much instantly how they thought you did.

Even though it took some nerve to open up, it was also incredibly useful to get specific feedback on your personal approach. The others helped point out one of my blind spots, and I was also able to reflect back on how I would approach things from watching the others at work.

The Bad (sort of)

Fast forward a day and my partner and I are guiding 3 couples through the dance of non-violent communication. The first time we did this retreat together, I was still only starting to recover from my depression. We then agreed that he would take the lead and I would contribute when and where I could. It worked really well considering it was the first time. I didn’t have the anxiety of wondering if I would forget stuff or would say something crazy. At the same time, I was able to experience that I could, in fact, contribute. It helped build my confidence and extend my comfort zone.

By now, I’ve come a long way since the dark winter months, and the idea was that we would get into a flow in which we would both guide from a space of equality, alternating between which of us took the lead in each exercise. This worked really well, considering it was the first time I wanted to participate more and the first time my partner let go of that leading position.

It also meant that we had ample time to observe each other at work. And since we both have quite different styles when it comes to public speaking, and focus on different aspects, we also had some feedback for the other person at the end of the day.

And that’s where we had a small hiccough. Before the retreat, we hadn’t specified exactly how we would deal with feedback, so each of us had a different set of expectations. In my case, it meant that it took me by surprise and I had a hard time dealing with the feedback he gave me. It also meant that I didn’t voice mine since I had the expecation of doing it after the retreat had finished.

We learned something about how feedback can go badly: when it’s not planned, when you’re afraid to give it or when it is based on interpretations. Since we were teaching other couples how to engage in difficult conversations, it provided us with the perfect practice for our preaching.

The Ugly

Feedback can also have an ugly side: when we use it as thinly veiled criticism or as a way to avoid our own responsibility. When giving feedback, we should always ask ourselves what our goal is, and whether that goal is achievable for the other person. Giving someone feedback by saying ‘your personality doesn’t really match with our company vision’ isn’t helpful. And saying you’re giving ‘feedback’ when you just want to vent won’t play out well, either.

At the same time, our response to feedback can be just as ‘ugly’ when we interpret the other person’s intentions the wrong way, or when we refuse to acknowledge our own room for growth (which is, as far as I’ve seen, a constant in life).

Feedback works best when the intention on both sides of the conversation is the same: to gain something, rather than point out what’s missing. If that’s your goal, together, feedback makes up an essential part of the strategy, whether it’s at work or at home. And it doesn’t have to be scary at all.

Do you find it easy to give and/or receive feedback? What are the key ingredients to make it go well in your opinion?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: