As a facilitator of workshops, most of which deeply affects people’s psyche and challenge the status quo, I am walking into a dangerous arena. As a result, I expect to hear difficult feedback. In fact, I desire feedback that catches a blind spot, corrects information, or introduces me to a perspective I have not heard before. I must admit that in the past year, however, I have evolved my thinking about feedback. I hope this blog will serve as a resource for other facilitators, speakers, or meeting hosts. I also hope it will help participants think about their role in providing feedback, not just to me, but to anyone they evaluate.
Is this really feedback?
I found great resources (which I will list below) on the difference between criticism and feedback.
✔️Intention: Criticism’s intention is to harm, while feedback’s intention is to be helpful and compassionate.
✔️Mindset: Criticism comes from a fixed mindset, while feedback comes from a growth mindset.
✔️Wants: Criticism focuses on what we do not want, and feedback focuses on what we do want.
✔️Time: Criticism is about the past, and feedback is about the future.
✔️Ability: Criticism focuses on weaknesses, while feedback focuses on strengths.
✔️Situation: Criticism says, “you are the problem”, while feedback says, “we can make this better together.”
✔️Construction: Criticism is destructive, while feedback is instructive.
✔️Effect: Criticism deflates, while feedback inspires.
I look for feedback because criticism is useless. Too often, however, my clients use anonymous feedback forms, and people type things that I do not believe they would say to my face. I am learning to ignore the critics and embrace constructive feedback.
In fact, I love what Brené Brown says regarding criticism: “If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” Like Brown, I speak about and provide workshops on topics related to courage and vulnerability. As part of that, I share my own vulnerability often. Some people are uncomfortable and express their distaste. Through my study of trauma, I have learned that these comments are about them and not about me.
For example, I recently received significantly hurtful criticism. I admit, my first reaction hit my gut and heart hard, and I felt a little triggered. As I examined my response, I realized it brought me right back to childhood, when a family member called me fat and lazy. At that moment, I realized the hurtful comment was also coming from a place of harm inside the person who made the comment. That awareness helped shift my feelings to compassion (both for myself and for the participant).
Should I provide opportunities for anonymous feedback?
If participants are clear on the difference between feedback and criticism, then anonymous feedback can be powerful. I also believe other sources of feedback must be considered. For instance, direct feedback from my client, as well as direct feedback from a few participants. I might even ask someone to observe me facilitate and debrief with me afterward.
Thoughtful assessment often validates the feedback process I reflect on myself after each session. Like many, I can be a harsh critic of myself. After every session, I make a few notes about what I would improve for the next time. Inevitably, most of what I note for myself shows up in honest feedback. For instance, I tend to cram too much information into my sessions, and I have received that feedback in two recently new workshops. I am learning to modify in several ways, which include suggestions from participants. First, I expand the session to make more space for discussion. Second, I move information from the presentation to resources included in my follow-up communication. Third, I send a preparatory email with a few questions participants should be ready to discuss. No two workshops of the same title are ever the same because I am always working on improvements.
Anonymous feedback can be helpful when carefully crafted. When I have the option of creating the anonymous feedback form, the first question I ask is: what could YOU (the participant) have done to make the workshop better? I find that this question helps participants shift away from criticism because it requires them to put a mirror to themselves first. I also steer clear from ranking questions like “how would you rank the effectiveness of the facilitator?” because it provides no context. For me, a better question might be: if you had to drop one thing from this presentation to make more space for discussion, which would it be (and then provide a list of topics)? The questions should be useful in helping you make a decision. If not, do not include the question in your anonymous feedback form.
When is immediate anonymous feedback helpful?
I find the use of menti.com (or other immediate feedback apps) to be particularly useful in my workshops. I use check-in polls on most of my workshops, so I have a sense of how participants are showing up. I let people know that if they are coming in at a lower capacity, then I grant them compassion and hope they will for themselves, too. This is a wonderful way to ask how people are doing without making them state it directly. Sometimes team leaders have become unaware of the capacity of their team, and this is a fantastic way to call attention to wellbeing and adjust when necessary.
I often use a “what are you hearing?” question in workshops. That lets me know what is resonating with participants. It also furthers the conversation.
A common question I ask at the end of a presentation is “what is the next thing you are going to do with this information?” This reveals the most important things participants are taking away. They are more likely to follow through if they make a written commitment. This closing question is also a way to settle the nervous system and make participants feel like something has been accomplished, and they know exactly what to do next.
In inclusion workshop I co-facilitate, we ask questions where anonymous answers offer great feedback. We ask: “Is there a time where you would have liked to speak, but didn’t?” This does not necessarily give us a direct answer because we cannot assume why the person did not speak up. It does let the group know that we should consider that all voices might not be fully present. Another question is “did you feel an oops or an ouch today?” (An oops being, “I said something that could be inappropriate/offensive to others”, and an ouch being, “someone else said something offensive to me”). At the end of each activity, we also ask if participants felt the exercise was useful in changing their way of thinking. As a result, we have a real-time sense of the effectiveness of each activity and do not have to wait until the fourth week to assess.
What forms of feedback are most helpful?
Immediate face-to-face discussion is the most beneficial to me. On several occasions, especially when developing new content, I invite participants to stay with me to provide quick feedback. Last fall, my partners Tom Kalous and Jimmy Fox developed a workshop on Acknowledging Ecogrief and Developing Resilience. Because this topic is heavy and holds the potential to cause more harm than to remove, we intentionally drafted people we knew would provide valuable feedback in exchange for this pilot offering. One person stayed on immediately following the session and provided quick guidance. We also held two “office hours” sessions where several other participants provided a much-needed assessment. We have gone through three iterations since then, and we are finally on track – all because of useful and direct feedback.
Another form of direct feedback I appreciate is contacting a few participants after the workshop to request a call. My best feedback has come from participants who directly challenged something I said in the session. Sometimes my challengers are not courageous enough to take me up on my offer, but every time they have, I think we’ve both been better for it. Otherwise, I like to connect with the most engaged participants just to find out more about what resonated and what they might still need.
My most special feedback is when a colleague provides it at the moment with compassion and curiosity. I am lucky to have a handful of colleagues who know me best, which means they know my strengths and my blind spots, my trauma history, and my accomplishments. When I know they have my best interest at heart, it is much easier to have a blind spot brought to my awareness. Awareness is the first step toward authenticity and living life fully from the well-being model I present in my wellness workshops. Bringing things to my awareness, with compassion, is how I get better at everything I do.
Let us recap
1. Know the difference between feedback and criticism (and immediately delete the criticism).
2. Carefully craft end-of-session anonymous feedback forms to help you make decisions.
3. Consider anonymous feedback in sessions to assist with psychological safety or dialogue.
4. Focus on face-to-face feedback from individuals who desire a better future.
What are your struggles with giving and receiving feedback?
For those of you like me, trying to transform systems, I encourage you to watch this video from Brené Brown on Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count. The famous Theodore Roosevelt quote on valiant and daring can be found at: https://www.trcp.org/2011/01/18/it-is-not-the-critic-who-counts/
Some articles on the difference between critiques and feedback can be found here:
Five Essential Differences Between Criticism And Feedback
Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Criticism
And, to dig even deeper, check out The Feedback Fallacy.
Feel free to use the little checklist below as a screenshot. Or please contact me and I will be happy to share a full document including this quick checklist. In addition, If you need a workshop on giving and receiving feedback, I’m ready for that too.