The Feedback Loop

Feedback, so important for growth and development, has tracks laid in our youth that say it is unpleasant and difficult. Doing it well is a gift that can be learnt.

There is a faint nip in the air that reminds us that autumn is here and that the cold is on its way. Although the days are still temperate and sunny, the darker mornings put paid to the fantasy that we are still in summer. What to wear in this crossing over season? Layers, obviously, but really can you be sure? It would be daft to cover up only to start unpeeling halfway into an online coaching session. Well, you couldn’t really, that would certainly break state, so you would have to wait it out until the meeting was done. An uncomfortable prospect.

Weather apps being notoriously inaccurate, the best thing to do is go outside to test the temperature. One very quick and direct method of getting feedback on one’s choice of attire. Weather has no qualms about hurting our feelings, it is what it is and if it is cold we will get that message. The feedback from venturing out will be loud and clear: add a layer, or two, and Matthew, remember your hat.


Our group of very dedicated “peer support coaching” students

Giving and receiving back

The skill of giving and receiving feedback was a central component of our peer coach training module this past Saturday.

“How do you feel about giving and receiving feedback?” Chantal asked the group, expecting some recoil.

None was forthcoming. In fact, some more confident souls said that they welcomed getting feedback and were comfortable giving feedback to others. These young people of today are so overconfident. Typically we see people shudder at the thought of getting feedback and baulk at the idea of giving it.

Aah, but these young guns, still at university, have not yet had the joys of performance appraisals and “constructive criticism” in the workspace, thought Matthew.

A few did admit that they were uncomfortable giving feedback because they feared hurting the other person and of being perceived as rude. But they didn’t mind getting feedback.

“Giving feedback is a skill that if you do it well, will set you up for success,” said Chantal. “So let's have a look at what effective feedback looks like and at some feedback models. And then you will go and practise.”

“So how did that go?” asked Matthew after rounding up the pairs back to the circle.

One after the other spoke of how they now felt having given and received feedback.

“I needed to tell her she was wrong,” said one, “It wasn’t easy.”

“I could hear that there was another way to do it so I gave her advice on what to do, ” said another.

“He gave me some advice on how I should have approached that situation.”


The crispness of an Autumn morning in Johannesburg

Not advice

How quickly we all fall back to that strategy of giving advice, thought Chantal. Learning a new skill which specifically requires that we do not offer advice is a hilly climb of unlearning a well entrenched habit. She gently reminded them that giving feedback is not about giving advice.

This group is learning well. They will make mistakes, form assumptions and go off on a tangent. They will be guided back to the path and asked to try again. And again.

“The only way you learn how to do this is by doing it,” said Matthew

Feedback is key for learning, development and growth. Feedback is also not that easy to give adeptly or to receive well. Nobody really teaches it. Mostly we learn by mimicking or modelling others. Our first experience of feedback would have been from our parents. We would have received feedback lovingly, or not so lovingly, that what we were doing, how we were behaving, was acceptable or not.


Avoid the red crosses

The biggest influence, though, would have been our school experience. The message instilled seemed to be that we need to get it right (first time!?) and avoid, at all costs, the ubiquitous red crosses. The general impatience with mistakes and the demand that failure be avoided at all costs would have set the foundation for a universal fear of feedback.

Having spent most of our formative years receiving feedback from those in authority with little power to respond, is it no wonder we think that our role when giving feedback is to give advice, or tell what is wrong and how to make it right? Being told that what you did was wrong can feel demeaning and embarrassing. So how to encourage feedback without the spike in heart rate?


As Winter approaches it’s heralded by the beautiful display of cosmos flowers

Slow it down, balance both

Teaching and learning how to do it better, is a start. Becoming aware of one’s own built in ways of doing and then choosing to change, if necessary.

For Chantal it’s taking a big breath and pausing before offering some insights. She has an eagle eye for the out of place, for what could be done better. She is also not terribly patient. In her rush to impart this information she can come across heavy-handed and overbearing.

“I’ve really got to slow it down dramatically. Bite my tongue and set the Grows to one side. Find and build on the Glows first.”

Grows are the developmental input, in other words, where you could do better, different, more, etc. Glows cover the positive, affirming feedback. The strokes that make us feel seen, heard and appreciated.

For Matthew, who is super tuned in to how others feel, he can get lost in the Glows and forget what he wanted to say about the Grows.


Wishing you a magical Easter and long weekend

A great team tries harder

“I think we make a great team,” said Chantal,” And we should work better together on the feedback stuff. I will ask you to highlight all the great things first, and then I’ll come in with the developmental areas. We should try it.”

“No,” said Matthew, chewing on the word, “I think you should try harder at saying more about the Glows and I should try harder at the developmental area or Grows.”

Of course we should. It’s the only way to get better at it. Like our students will. Maybe an opportunity to also connect to the feedback our bodies are constantly giving us too. To work through the discomfort of difficult conversations and remain open to the signals to slow down or speed up, to breathe and let go, to connect and grow with those we teach, love and support.

If you have some feedback for us this week we are open to receiving it, both the Grows and the Glows.

Until next time,

Yours in feeling,
Chantal & Matthew

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