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Giving and Receiving Feedback

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Practice Group Report

Our topic for the evening was feedback, and we spent about 40 minutes discussing the kind of feedback we like to receive, as well as the practicalities of giving feedback. Our aim was to draw up some guidelines for the group for this and future meetings. During the discussion, the following points were made:

  • Although the word feedback comes from cybernetics and is essentially a neutral word to describe what is happening in a system, it has come to have negative connotations for many people, suggesting criticism. Indeed many people ‘discount’ positive feedback, only hearing the ‘points for improvement’. Gavin related a story about this and Lizz recognised this in herself when she received feedback during the evening.
  • A few models group members have used which have worked well for them are:
    • BOCA (Behaviour, Outcome, Consequences, Action)
    • the Non-Violent Communication model (I saw you do X; my reaction is Y; what I’d like to see instead is Z)
    • the feedback sandwich (good points, things to work on, something positive)
    • Positive, Negative, Learning Points.
  • It is important to distinguish between statements about a person’s behaviour and statements about a person’s identity. We agreed that feedback in the group should be at the behavioural level.
  • Another distinction which came up was that between feedback which has been asked for and that which is unsolicited. We agreed that as the purpose of the group is for learning, it is reasonable to assume that people want feedback. Indeed 16 out of the 17 of us present agreed that we want feedback… AND we agreed that setting individual sessions up so that the facilitator asks for the kind of feedback they want is a practice we’d like to adopt in the group.
  • Ownership is also important when giving feedback. We agreed that it’s best to say ‘in my opinion…’ or similar.
  • Most people said that if someone has some feedback for them which could be perceived as critical, they would prefer people to be honest and direct. Obviously, the way feedback is given is important and we spoke about having the right intention - i.e. that it is to help someone to learn.
  • Another aspect of feedback relates to the way it is received. Phil told a story about training participants being asked to receive the feedback by simply saying ‘Thank You’ rather than seeking to justify or explain themselves. The feedback is a gift. And if it is an unwanted gift, Phil told us that we can read in “A Wizard Of Earthsea” by Ursula LeGuin, a story about feedback being ‘averted’!
  • Concern was expressed about levels of expertise. Some people said they did not feel ‘qualified’ to give feedback. We agreed that if the feedback was behavioural - e.g. you asked 6 x ‘anything else’ and 1 x ‘what kind of’ - then everybody could engage in it. Tips and hints on how to improve would be seen as coaching, and if a facilitator wanted this, and there was time, that could be part of the contracting.

After the discussion, we agreed on the following principles for feedback giving and receiving in the group:

  • As this is a learning group, we can assume that most people want feedback most of the time.
  • We also decided to set up a formal contracting procedure at the start of each round, where the facilitator is asked: What kind of feedback, if any, do you want?
  • We will trust that the giver has the best of intentions at heart.
  • Receivers of feedback will aim to simply receive, by saying ‘Thank You’.
  • The giver will give evidence-based behavioural feedback, starting with"What I noticed was….” or “What did you notice?” It is important that the receiver gets feedback that they can act upon.
  • Observers and clients can both give feedback. When clients give feedback they can relate their experience of having been facilitated. We will avoid getting into the client’s content though.

With these guidelines in mind, we then broke into groups of three (client, facilitator, observer) and did some Clean coaching, starting with the question “What would you like to have happen?”

Afterwards, we noted some experiences people had in relation to feedback giving and receiving. The general consensus seemed to be that it was useful to have had the discussion. People felt comfortable with the feedback they were giving and receiving and encouraged by the fact that it was coming. Setting out a contract was definitely useful.

One or two people noted that the feedback says a lot about the giver - and someone suggested the idea of giving feedback to the giver… maybe an idea for another time?

People with less experience of Clean Language tended to ask for general feedback; Gavin (with several years’ experience) said he was interested to notice what he and asked for feedback on (tracking of metaphors and how he developed them; using the client’s language; what he was doing well; his use of the Clean questions).

Marian suggested that we look at the criteria for level one assessment, available here. This may give you more ideas about what you want feedback on, as well as ideas for practice group activities. Please comment below if you see any criteria you would like us to explore more in the group.

Finally, we considered Robin’s question about how Clean Language might help in a situation where people are colluding NOT to give someone feedback, which would be likely to help that person. Many ideas were suggested, and although Clean Language could not be used to broach the subject, we agreed it might be a useful tool for the ensuing conversation.

It was a great evening, and lovely to see so many people. 


About Marian Way

Marian Way's avatar

A highly skilled facilitator and trainer, Marian, who founded Clean Learning in 2001, has developed and delivered training across the world. She is the author of Clean Approaches for Coaches, co-author, with James Lawley, of Insights in Space and co-author, with Caitlin Walker, of So you want to be… #DramaFree.

Marian is an expert Clean facilitator, an adept modeller, a programme writer and an inspirational trainer. She has a natural ability to model existing structures, find the connections between them and design new ways for people to learn. Marian was a leading innovator within the Weight Watchers organisation, which included developing the “points” strategy, a local idea that went on to become a global innovation. She is a director of both Clean Learning and Training Attention CIC, world leaders in clean applications for corporate, educational and community development. She designs our programmes and workbooks, leads workshops and teaches on all our courses. She’s trained people in Great Britain, Russia, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan and the USA. Marian is also a recognised Clean Assessor.


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