Asking for feedback

June 1, 2006

I generally work on my own with groups and while it’s always great to get feedback at the end of a session or in subsequent days it can be difficult to get critical feedback that can help next time out.
This week, for the first time, I invited a colleague to observe my training work and I was very interested in how I responded. I was nervous before the session (I’m generally a bit nervous but this was off the scale!), left my office without part of my equipment and had to improvise and it took me a good hour or so to forget he was in the room. As the day progressed I settled into myself a bit more.
When the session was over there was an opportunity for the participants to offer feedback and I also had some time with my colleague. Both sets of feedback focussed on different aspects of the day and I was curious to see what my colleague had made of the work I was doing. I won’t go into the detail of his comments – but what struck me as really interesting was his ability to see me working in a way that I take totally for granted. He observed me “remembering” what had happened earlier in the day and bringing it back at a relevant moment. He also watched me restructure a segment of the day when something more interesting came along and the energy of the group went there etc. These are all standard things I “do” with a group and it was so helpful for me to have them noticed.
Asking my colleague into the room is part of a series of interventions I am making around languaging and describing what I do. More recently I asked a group with whom I had worked to write up their experience of the “problem” and the “intervention” as feedback for me and again, it was huge learning and a reminder that when I move into a comfort zone I tend to “forget” what it is I’m doing – I’m in that unconscious competence place.
It takes a risk to ask for feedback because so much of what we do is personal…but so far I’ve learned a lot about how I work in ways that would have been inaccessible to me. How do you know what you do? And how well it’s working?

3 People reacted on this

  1. I often work with people, for a variety of reasons – sometimes we need to hold the space together, sometimes I need a fresh set of eyes and ears to design good process. But for whatever reason, I find having a person there to work with does two major things for me: it creates a better level of accountability for my work (beyond to the client, I am now also accountable for the more intimate relationship of working with a friend) and it provides an action learning partner.
    Whenever I am working with someone over an extended period, I like to build in a debrief retreat for us (sometimes including the client) to harvest what we have learned from the process in general and how, at a deeper level, we have been touched and changed by what we’ve done. Building in the learning process before inviting someone to work with me seems to take care of the “performance anxiety” you are describing Annette. I would much rather have a person in the fire with me, than watching me sort things out on my own and then providing feedback to me afterwards. Action learning vs. being tested.
    Personally, my worry with inviting an observer is that I would be working to his or her eyes a little more than usual and I would be concerned that this would take my attention away from the group’s needs. You seemed to have a good day anyway, and that is a testament to your professionalism, but what do you think of an action learning partnership where you and your partner are involved in an instant feedback process as well as a debrief?

  2. I’m really hungry to work in an action learning environment Chris – I would love that kind of give and take…I think it’s something to do with finding the right work partner as this instance the colleague was a friend and it was a “safe” way of securing feedback as distinct from “performing” for a total stranger. Maybe one of the things I’m hoping is that via this space I can meet people that it might be possible to consider working with!

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