Personal Development

Experience with Feedback: Practice Makes Progress

#learningIsAGift ?
#rituals of #theBeautifulJourney ?


I’ve written about The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback (AGRF) by Gerald Weinberg and promised I’ll follow up with some details on the practice inspired by the book. To refresh your memory: Each chapter in the book comes with a set of practical exercises that one can do and I decided to do them. Given feedback is a collaborative process which one person cannot sustain alone, I needed someone to practice with. James Thomas agreed to this. For a period of about 3 months at the end of 2017 we’ve covered almost all the chapters. Then, around mid 2018, I’ve proposed to colleagues in the company an optional 1 hour workshop on a few exercises about giving and receiving feedback where we’ve all practiced together.

  • Part 1 – the Why and How for the practice and examples of What the exercises were
  • Part 2 – what I’ve discovered in the process

(Part 1)

Why did I want to do this?

  • I enjoy planning, organising and facilitating and this was a nice opportunity to do it
  • I enjoy discussing and experimenting with topics about psychology, self-development, how the mind works
  • I wanted to practice receiving information about me that I didn’t like and dealing with it assertively
  • I wanted to practice guiding a conversation into areas of interest to me without being distracted by any other emerging side issues
  • I wanted to practice different ways of offering feedback and dealing with a variety of potential responses
  • I wanted to see how much I can understand the other person’s values, triggers, motivations etc. when they are not explicitly stated

Now let’s get back to my practice process. This is How I’ve proposed we do it:

  • One chapter per week
  • Monday, by lunch time
    • Me: send email with the exercises and a few notes on the chapter
    • email subject: AGRF – Chapter  Number – Chapter Title
  • Thursday/Friday – meet for 30 mins to discuss
  • Exercises that we don’t get to do can be carried over from one week to another if they seem valuable

We also agreed to adapt the approach if needed and terminate the practice if no more value is gained.

A few examples of What the exercises covered, all topics being discussed on personal experiences and not theoretical ones, some of them involving role play:

  • Analyse traits of influencing and non-influencing feedback
  • Analyse the compulsion of giving feedback and how you can meet the need behind it in other ways
  • Analyse approach of handling ambiguous feedback
  • Ways of asking for feedback
  • Identify communication models you use to understand human interaction
  • Identify cases of assumptions getting in your way

(Part 2)

The practice meetings have ignited a process that would continue beyond the moment they’ve stopped. That is, by doing them, I’ve realised I’ve only scratched the surface and now that I have the information (theoretical from the book and experiential from the practice) I must continue employing these exercises day in, day out in order to create positive change in the areas I’ve identified could benefit from it. I might state the obvious here, but change …

  • is not quick, easy nor permanent
  • takes constant practice
  • can/will be painful
  • reveals more areas that could be changed
  • (good news) is possible

Through the exercises, during the practice and after, I’ve …

  • discovered patterns in my thinking and behaviour
  • started …
    • listening and observing more
    • focusing on behaviour more (touched upon this subject in mini habits for the mind)
    • stepping back more often
    • questioning my motives more often
    • focusing on having kindness as my foundation layer in communication, where kindness is guided by the motto: Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind. Inspired by Brené Brown.
  • developed more empathy
    • adapting my expectations in certain relationships
  • stopped taking certain things personally by …
    • identifying if there is anything that I can usefully take from that feedback
    • realising what that feedback says about the giver
    • remaining focused, not being sidetracked by side issues (e.g. unhelpful feedback)

The most difficult part for me is the inner game work, while the easiest is the behaviour part. You can think of the behaviour part from the point of view of a Shu Ha Ri practice and it’ll feel easier. (See Other things to keep in mind for development section from my article on Andy Hunt’s book Pragmatic Thinking & Learning.)

I might state the obvious again, but when one person changes for the better, things get better for everyone around them as well. That happened in my case, based on the feedback I’ve received :-).

The Whys were achieved through the practice exercises and through the follow-up opportunities when the practice meetings stopped e.g.

  • doing various presentation dry-runs with James where I’d have to offer him feedback
  • in a safe to fail environment, with and without prior warning, i.e. with the chance to prepare feedback vs coming up with it in the moment, James asked me to provide feedback on various things
  • receiving feedback on every presentation I made
  • when I’ve taken on the Scrum Master role and started a Scrum team

During this process, there was an obvious progression on the initial Whys – assertiveness improved, repertoire of questions to mine for feedback, ways of offering feedback and ways of responding to responses to feedback has increased and become more natural. I’ve also started adapting more to my perception of the values and motivations of the other person and checking that my perception is accurate in that moment. (Listen to your intuition, but verify it.)

The 1 hour workshop I’ve prepared for a few of my colleagues has given me yet another opportunity to deal with and adapt to live feedback. And it was a good example for everyone of how messages can be misunderstood, why it is good to check your understanding and a reminder to be aware that there is a lot of “noise in the signal”.

If you would like to embark on a transformational journey through feedback, I’d look for certain criteria to be in place before starting:

Once you have an environment and person you can trust, you must commit to the practice. For me this has an explicit clause about the commitment to go through the pain that might arise during the process. If this happens, a lot of the work will go in the inner game (you’ll have to research and discover what works for you) and understanding the pain and pleasure principle can also help with getting the work done when you don’t feel like it.

Until next time, wishing you to … Enjoy the ride!

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