This is one of series of blogs that are a retrospective reflection on Integral City Community of Practice’s experience in taking the In This Together (ITT) course on basic facilitation skills taught by Diane Musho Hamilton and Ten Directions.
In the seventh module of the course we out of the “refiner’s fire” of conflict into the opportunity to give and receive feedback.
Diane opened this session after linking the topics of transmuting emotions to lower the threshold of anxiety and fear when others feel threatened. She inspired us with reference to the political adepts who are able to “metabolize” negativity and let of feelings – people like Martin Luther King Jr., Mandela, Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Angela Merkel, Gandhi, Mother Teresa.
Giving and receiving feedback can include the expression of feelings without hurting others. We are in a better position to receive feedback when we practice reflective listening skills.
In healthy cultures, feedback is a part of the culture. As we practise giving and receiving feedback it seems to become easier and more natural.
Ironically it seems that most of us are reasonably good at reading others but terrible at reading ourselves. Feedback from others can help us grow because it can re-frame our self-concept – which is often highly distorted.
Giving feedback is a way of stretching and learning. To the extent that we can create safety for the giver and receiver, it becomes more positive to offer and receive feedback. This includes allowing enough time for both parties to metabolize the feedback, recognizing that we might have to overcome the old impulses to fight or flee or freeze.
What was the ITT homework?
Diane gave us double-barrelled homework – to both receive feedback and give it. The homework was outlined as follows.
- Ask a close friend or colleague to give you constructive feedback. It helps to be specific, like, “How do you think my work is going right now?” or “How are you experiencing me in relationship lately?”
- Brace yourself. You’ll be amazed how ready people are to offer their opinions.
- Take a couple of even inhalations and exhalations, and notice any bodily resistance to the feedback. Let the resistance simply be there.
- Simply listen and repeat what you have heard. Refrain from explaining or commenting in any other way on the feedback. Just feel what it is like to take it in.
- Wait for a situation to come up in which you would like to offer constructive feedback to a friend or colleague.
- First, ask for their permission. They may not give it.
- Begin with a sentence or two of appreciation.
- Offer a simple observation that might serve them if they’re receptive. An example might be, “I notice that when attention comes your way, you tend to move away from it.” Or, “I would like it if you put your cell phone away when we are eating.”
- Always follow the feedback with a question such as, “How do you feel about this?” or, “What is your experience of this?”
- Say thanks for the opportunity to be open and real.
1. What did we experience in accomplishing the homework on giving and receiving feedback?
Our homework group had a variety of feedback experiences to share.
One of us commented that feedback can be both formal – like feedback to a student taking a class – which can also be formative (to help learning) and summative (to give a grade). Feedback can also be informal in conversation. And all these kinds of feedback can be spoke, written or even via video. So, it is helpful to understand the context and the mode of delivery of the feedback because it impacts the way the message can be heard.
The same person had just received edits on a manuscript as a form of quite formal feedback in electronic mode. That delivery method put some distance between her and the editor – but it also gave here more time to metabolize and respond to the feedback.
Another participant shared that she had practised asking permission to give feedback to a person who was a staff member reporting to a Board she sat on. He agreed to receive the feedback and they were able to discuss how he could respond to the situation. At the same time, he agreed that it was helpful to receive the feedback to better perform his job.
In a similar way, one of our group shared how she reacted to impending feedback from a leader in her community. The leader has simply said, “I have something to tell you.” Our participant noticed that she flinched in expectation that it would be negative feedback. On reflection, she could see that she may have fallen into a habit of self-blaming – a form of self-talk feedback that she could re-frame into just needing to “deal with the facts”.
The same person, explained that she had become aware that in a situation where a friend was visiting, that she was able to pre-empt misunderstandings by declaring that she was in a task oriented and not relationship oriented. This was a kind of feed-forward strategy that was helpful in keeping things positive.
One of our group, share her homework in an email:
“When I give feedback, the time I take to prepare makes possible the most thoughtful expression of feedback. Sometimes in fact, my feedback changes, as my prep time causes me to really delve into my experience and think not only of myself but also of the other person. So, it’s not just my one dimension-filled experience, it also is a consideration of the situation the other person is in and the factors (as much as I can know them) that may be impacting and shaping their behaviour. This contemplative feedback proved to be way more soulful (and thus impactful) for both parties. It also allowed me to step away from my judgments and do more discerning, which I believe made for more authentic and respectful feedback.
“[On the other hand] when I received feedback I caught myself quickly feeling some degree of angst, as my immediate reaction was to protect myself in the event of [whatever I imagined could happen]. What was so cool about this was that I was aware of myself going to reticence and because of this awareness, I was able to shift to a place of curiosity just in time to hear the feedback, which is what I was able to do. And because I could ‘hear’ the constructive feedback I was able to contextualize it in a way that it had meaning for me (a win for sure). While I didn’t agree with all the constructive feedback I received, because it was obvious to the person who was giving me the feedback that I was genuinely listening to it, as I offered my alternate view my feedback partner was able to ‘hear’ it back; i.e., he was open to my view. This two-way open communication definitely allowed for a richer and more meaningful exchange between the two of us”.
2.So What does the topic/homework on giving and receiving feedback have to do with Integral City practice or training?
Our email correspondent wisely observed that:
“I can see that in order to make intelligent decisions that help and move people forward, it is critical that we be as thoughtful as we can about what we think is happening and what needs to happen next. Sharing from the heart and from our own experience allows for the fertile soil of meaningful interaction that benefits all parties even when we consider that some degree of compromise will ensue. From this place of respectful communication, we can start to shape a co-beneficial future, one exchange at a time. It’s also important to balance the constructive with the positive and appreciate the value in capacity building that comes from both, not to mention the fact that it just feels good when we speak out loud or give voice to our positive experience that others have made possible. This sets us up for a 2nd tier future.”
Feedback on our professional performance as facilitators can help us improve and shape our messages about Integral City to different audiences. And in return, we should not be surprised to find those audiences reciprocate with positive feedback that encourages us to keep improving.
Diane called giving and receiving feedback as a form of relationship reciprocity – in the Integral City it is how we “feed” each other in the Human Hive – through storytelling and sharing feedback.
Another of our group, acting as an editor, realized that feedback is invaluable in any situation involving training. It can be just low key, keeping things factual, but feedback can enable business to feel responsive, reactive, and expressive. Particularly in online situations that can humanize it.
One of us shared how an email giving feedback exchange shed light on the yin/yang nature of the mode of exchange. The yin aspect can convey appreciation and the yang can convey facts. But when it is one sided, the yang expression tends to predominate and the message is not experienced in a fulsome way.
We observed that some people are not as comfortable online as they are in person. We could see how this realization was both relevant and powerful. Even watching Diane teach via Zoom video we could see her reference people and give feedback both obliquely and explicitly. When we see faces, even at a distance via Zoom, a huge feedback loop happens. (We remembered the research that shows that 75% of communication is non-verbal, so seeing facial and body expression amplifies the feedback loop.)
It is helpful in city contexts to remember that Action Research uses Appreciative Inquiry dialogue for small group exercises, dyads, and plenary sharing. Experience at the dyad scale can help feedback newbies to listen to each other without interrupting or make wrong-right judgments.
Feedback is primal to the Inquiry intelligence in the Integral City. With the 4 voices, feedback is a relevant way to recognize the contributions from the 4 Voices. When we have designed Learning Lhabitats, we have done that using homogenous groups for feedback first. Then we moved to mixed groups, where feedback, revealed different perspectives.
Feedback can be framed in quadrants, levels, lines, types and filters into giving and receiving. As people become aware of the value of feedback it gives them more insight into each other and tends to generate greater compassion.
Essentially effective feedback leads back to practising the Master Code. Feedback is integral to taking care of others, groups, place, and planet because feedback includes all scales and myself. It can be quite introspective. Feedback is fundamental to facilitating. It can really help raise the experience of mutual trust and respect. if I trust you listen to me, and not try to fix me. Then I respect you a lot more. (And vice versa.)
3.Now What will we do as a result, of our homework experience and sharing on giving and receiving feedback?
In considering what we would do as a result of the feedback insights we shared these ideas.
- We will remember that feedback is not about getting my way or putting someone down or even protesting – feedback is a genuine exchange for constructive purposes.
- It is always relevant to understand the context in which feedback is being exchanged – and how formal or informal it can be.
- It is useful to be mindful of the culture in which we are giving or receiving feedback and get agreement on our intentions.
- We should consider the perspectives that are being used in giving or receiving feedback. Different points of view will not only inspire different kinds of feedback but also influence the skill with which it is given.
- Our exchanges made us appreciate that humour can help defuse a feedback situation – but humour should not be used to avoid genuine, useful and/or necessary feedback.
- An invitation to others to express their point of view must be reciprocated with active listening.
- In Action Research, we can remember to ask participants to use Appreciative Inquiry as a form of feedback that is encouraging for all.
- We can remember the value of feedback to living the Master Code – and actually practice the Master Code by designing feedback opportunities.
- Feedback is essential to the Navigating Intelligence. But we need to remember that if we are steering a ship, we are course correcting all the time – because feedback helps us to dynamically steer and allows us to get to where we intend to go.
- Finally, we can invite others to give us feedback and thereby model remaining open to others and willing to include their point of view.