The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback

by Jeannine Tidwell

In the realm of mentoring and leadership, giving and receiving feedback is a powerful mentoring tool for building and deepening relationships. Simply put, our effectiveness as a mentor and leader is proportionate to our ability to both give and receive feedback. If we want to grow as a whole human being, then we need to strengthen the muscle of giving and receiving feedback! Think of it as gold dust for personal growth. Feedback is a viable mechanism for strengthening connections amongst the hearts of mentors and students, as well as the overall strength and resiliency of a culture. We have written this article for those of you wondering how to give feedback, or how to receive feedback.

Giving and Receiving Feedback

Giving and receiving feedback gives us a richer understanding of ourselves and our skills as a facilitator and presenter. It helps us to tangibly measure our growth as leaders and mentors and transfer our learning to real application in the future.

It's a vital asset that can even save us money! Giving and receiving feedback is essentially a call to paying attention to where and how we're making an impact. While it can be an opportunity for validation and be a great morale booster it can also offer us insight into changing our direction. In this article we offer you some valuable gems for giving and receiving feedback.

How to Receive Feedback

Because feedback from people comes in different flavors, it's important to remember that it's in the spirit of supporting you. Receiving feedback is a skill set, like a muscle we exercise. It's an exercise in inner tracking. Receiving feedback often takes us to the edge of our comfort zone. This is where the true growth happens so take it as a useful encounter for the leader within. It invites us to be vulnerable - a true mark of an authentic heart-centered leader.

How do we quiet the ego so that it doesn't react to receiving strong feedback? Our soul/spirit needs to be on board which is the part of us that can take anything. Even feedback that might seem devastating to the ego is like rocket fuel for the soul/spirit. Often times, that's the feedback that will actually move us forward and has the potential to truly shift our trajectory.

So how does one quiet the ego? There are of course tons of methods. At Twin Eagles we work with a body of teachings called the "Seven Sacred Attributes". These came to us from the late native elder named Gilbert Walking Bull, traditional Lakota spiritual teacher and healer. One of the Seven Sacred Attributes of the human being is called "Wo-wah-kwa-ka" - Inner Quietness. This is something you can practice at a place in nature building a relationship with your inner silence. Gilbert Walking Bull has said this is where we're actually developing a relationship with our own spirit. When this relationship is strong, we are able to maintain this connection even in the face of "devastating" feedback, and not have our ego react. Sometimes the ego is an elusive creature. At the core, we need a rock solid attitude of "my personal growth and my growth as a mentor and leader is more important than my feeling comfortable" or "I'm willing to feel temporarily uncomfortable in the short term in exchange for feeling powerfully connected to my passion/power/purpose/highest self in the long term."

I remember at one of my first Art of Mentoring workshops as a staff that I had just given my all that week, 110%. I was stoked from the week's experience, and exhausted all at the same time. Some of the other staff sat me down and offered me feedback about my role. I remember this session in particular because I was asked to simply hear the feedback, without responding. That was new for me. "OK, I'll try this on" I thought. They mentioned a few points, but the one that really stuck was "Work on other ways of inspiring people beyond just big, high energy." I was pissed. "How dare they say that!" I thought. I stayed in this ego reactionary place for days, but I couldn't forget what they had said. Eventually, I calmed down and really sat with it. I had to admit to myself, they were right. It wasn't easy, but it was true. Slowly, I started developing these others ways to inspire people, and I now enjoy a much broader array of choices when it comes to bringing inspiration. Looking back, I'm now grateful for that experience that I initially resisted so strongly and I practice receiving feedback without reacting. I'm sure you can relate, right? You may have all kinds of stories like this too.

Tips on receiving feedback

  • There needs to be a full willingness present to take the risk of receiving feedback.
  • Fully open yourself to receiving - treat it like getting a present on your birthday.
  • Listen deeply to feedback and to the insights it's offering you.
  • When receiving what may feel like strong feedback, work to transcend the ego and connect with your spirit/soul. See the feedback from this objective, detached place.
  • Follow up on feedback with real action steps in the future.
  • Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

How to Give Feedback

When it comes to giving feedback, it's crucial to know your student and understand how they receive feedback best. Do they like to be challenged head on or do they prefer a gentle, sensitive approach? What about differentiating between what the student wants/likes and what actually works? These are all important considerations. It's easy to avoid conflict and avoid sharing the really honest feedback that can hurt if given/taken in the wrong way. But done tactfully, this feedback can be the most potent. Often times it's the hardest to give and the most impactful. This is where the "Heart of Mentoring" comes in. We have found that regardless of the style or approach we are taking, a heart level connection present between mentor and student facilitates giving feedback significantly.

Here is a short story to illustrate this that may sound familiar. In one of our Twin Eagles programs one of our staff had some deeper emotional issues leak out in a program context. Put another way, his emotional issues were making it difficult for him to be powerfully present as a staff in a program context. We initially supported him to ride the emotional waves by going to his sit spot and having more personal time. We knew it was important to give him honest and specific feedback about his conduct and suggestions for improvement. It was difficult to acknowledge this, especially because of the sensitive nature of his emotional issues. Of course, we knew it was the best thing to do, and that it would help him take responsibility for himself and grow in the future. Having a heart connection made the process so much easier, and human, than it would have been without. He was able to hear the feedback and acknowledged it was true. We were surprised by how well he took the feedback. In fact, he was actually relieved to receive our feedback because it offered him a new insight he had not yet considered: that he needed to create other sacred spaces for turbulent emotions to be held, fully experienced and released.

Tips for how to give feedback:

  • Keep the person and their vision/actions moving forward. Feedback should be goal-oriented and supportive.
  • Feedback is best when focused on the person's actions rather than on them as a person, i.e., offer observations as opposed to judgments or interpretations
  • Keep feedback specific and to the point
  • Feedback needs to be meaningful and useful to the person
  • Feedback needs to be within the person's power to improve
  • There needs to be a willingness to take the risk of offering all kinds of feedback. Nervous? Take a moment to center yourself and be clear internally that what you are offering is coming from a place of supporting the student's growth.
  • Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Creating a Culture of Feedback

As you continue to explore how to give feedback and how to receive feedback, consider the power of culture. It is so powerful to be in an environment where everyone is committed to giving and receiving feedback, regardless of their role or depth of experience. One of the benefits of crafting a culture of giving and receiving feedback is that it is synergistic in nature and growth can happen really quickly in this environment. Locally, we are both involved in gender groups and in them we have seen time and again that people (especially newcomers) can grow more in one evening together than they have in one year previously, simply because there's a group willing to take risks together and committed to giving and receiving feedback powerfully. This same powerful culture of giving and receiving feedback is present at Twin Eagles. This is happening in groups all over the place. The simple commonality is that there's a culture in place where people are actively practicing giving and receiving feedback.

We encourage you to keep the symbiotic waters of feedback flowing in all directions. How are you in relationship to feedback? To receiving feedback? To giving feedback? How is the culture of giving and receiving feedback in your circles? What do you want for yourself, and for your people? If you want to maximize growth, expect to give and receive feedback willingly and continually. Work towards creating a larger culture that values and practices potent feedback. In doing so, this is one way in which we will absolutely change ourselves and change our world, growing as a group of leaders that supports each other and motivates one another to setting a high bar for personal and collective growth.

Interested in being personally mentored in Nature Based Mentoring, on a transformational journey of connection to nature, community, and self?

Check out the Twin Eagles Wilderness Immersion Program.

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