Tana: I’ve always been very open to receiving feedback. I often seek it out. But in the heat of the moment, it can be a blow to the ego. If I’m accused of something, my gut reaction is to deny it. I feel emotion coming at me. I feel a “you’re not perfect” energy coming at me. But I would rather know what people are experiencing, because it exists whether I know it or not, so I want it to be surfaced so I can work with it. Otherwise it does no one any good. If it’s not expressed, it leaves the other person angry and me oblivious. An eye cannot see itself.
Rennie: For me it doesn’t come so naturally. I think for most of my life I’ve been pretty bad at receiving feedback. When I was younger, it felt very disorienting, like an assault. I often couldn’t take it in fully until days or even weeks later. And I was frightened of it. I certainly never sought it out unless I was quite sure the feedback would be positive, even glowing. Slowly, though, I’ve come to really appreciate hearing from people who challenge or provide a different perspective on what I am doing. There has been no mystery to this change. It is simply the result of practice. The more I’ve experienced critical feedback in my generally healthy work and personal relationships, the better I’ve become at letting that initial panic pass away. I can start to listen relatively quickly now, and I have even come to enjoy it at times (though these times are still in the minority, I’m afraid). Maybe I’ll never be particularly gifted at receiving feedback well. But it’s clear to me that the ability to understand other people’s perspectives of you – and to grow from those perspectives – is something that can be cultivated through sustained practice.
We’ve talked a lot about Inscaping on this blog, the practice of surfacing and drawing upon the inner experiences of organization members during the normal course of work to shape and guide the organization. Inscaping can be applied to most aspects of organizational life, but one of the most transformative areas to start with is sharing how we experience our working relationships with each other.
Most of us get very little honest peer feedback. And what we do get is likely to be either very emotional, occurring in the heat of the moment, or very removed and analytical as part of a formalized evaluation process. We don’t often get to hear authentic and grounded expressions of how other people really experience working with us. Which is a shame, because sharing these experiences can dramatically strengthen our relationships and expand the possibilities for personal and organizational creativity and growth.
At Kufunda Learning Village, we’ve recently experimented with a powerful exercise called ‘Appreciative Feedback Triads’ or ‘Kupa humbowo muhutatu’ in Shona that helps to exercise this particular inscaping muscle.
Here’s how it works…
- The entire organization, division, department, or team gathers and people self-organize into groups of three.
- Within each group, the first person is chosen to receive feedback.
- Each of the other two people in the group give this person full and honest feedback in line with the guiding questions below. While one is speaking the other serves as a silent witness.
- The next person is chosen to receive feedback, and the cycle begins again. The process is repeated until all three people have received feedback from everyone in the group.
-What do I appreciate most about working with you? Examples?
-What do I find challenging about working with you? Examples?
-How have I seen you grow? Examples?
When you are giving feedback:
- Be honest
- Speak from your heart
- Share your feelings and reactions to working with the person, rather than your opinion of their character or skills.
When you are receiving feedback:
- Remain silent
- Listen deeply
- Refrain from the natural tendency to defend yourself when receiving difficult feedback.
When you are witnessing:
- If necessary, remind the other two group members of principles and guiding questions
- Otherwise, remain silent and listen deeply
For best results, the Feedback Triad exercise should done on a regular basis (e.g., monthly or quarterly), and each time people should form different triads, so they can hear from people they haven’t met with yet or recently.
If you have ever participated in Feedback Triads (or something similar) on an on-going basis or if you decide to experiment with it for the first time, we’d love to hear about your experience.