The power of feedback

The class stood almost as one and headed for the tea break. Rachel the teaching assistant had positioned herself to make sure she caught me on the way out. “Once you’ve got your drink Jon I’d like to sit down and discuss some things with you” My mind raced, was in trouble? We had been giggling a bit at the back but no one else had been cornered. I agreed to meet in 5 minutes time in a quiet place in the hotel lobby.

As I sat down she pulled out a piece of paper, it seemed to have quite a bit of writing on it. Today had obviously been the straw which broke the camel’s back. I readied myself for my telling off. “Now Jon I’d like you to listen to what I say without interruption. Please do not try and formulate a response, just listen and truly hear what I’m about to say to you, it is important that you do this.” I’m thinking it’s going to be the riot act.

She starts, I hear something about “being on a personal journey”, er ok, hang on, so maybe I’m not in that much trouble. Quick Jon, concentrate, damn she’s noticed I’m not listening properly. “Please listen Jon, as I said, there is no response needed”. She starts again and this time I really hear her. She talks about how well I’m learning the information, about how well I’m beginning to apply it with my fellow students. There’s a comment about how I seem to be managing my state and helping others be in a good place to learn. She talks a little of being “present” and then comes the last sentence. “……. you create a curious and playful space for people to feel safe and explore”. It’s like being hit in the stomach but in a good way, I’m almost breathless. Even if I wanted to speak I’m not sure I could. She hands me the piece of paper, smiles and gets up. “We’re due back in 5 minutes so take a little time to just let it sink in” and then she’s gone. As you can imagine, it has a positive effect, not least because I had to listen and “own it” rather than bat it away with a quip or a nonchalant smile.

Why has this come up today, 5 years later? Well I guess in some ways that piece of feedback has been with me ever since that day, not just on the slip of paper I have in front of me but in my heart. That final line about what I could create has sustained me so many times but it’s also reminds me of how important it was to listen that day. I don’t think I’ve ever listened better before or since and its the benchmark for how I try to listen to clients when I coach, to peers when we share ideas. So today I had a meeting with no agenda, no frame, no pre-agreed objective and I didn’t know what best to do. Luckily a conversation with @stirthesource prior to the meeting brought the feedback to mind. So I created a curious space by listening a lot. I feel that I connected with the other attendee on a level of deep understanding, we shared values and beliefs that built a real and honest rapport. All that and a cup of hot chocolate!

Unusually for my blog, there is no call to action today. I just wanted to share what one person can prompt and where that can take you, both at the time and maybe, just when you need it most.


About Jon Bartlett

I'm a coach, blogging on things that occur to me, that I want to share and any other fun stuff I find lying around in the real world.
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5 Responses to The power of feedback

  1. Andy Phillips says:

    Yes, I have used this ‘technique’ before with children – but not enough now I think about it. It also goes hand-in-hand with the old adage (and sales methodology) of having two ears and one mouth and to use them in that proportion. As a matter of interest what triggered you to recall the event?

  2. Martin Schmalenbach says:

    Feedback is an incredibly rich field, and sometimes when we look at this field, we see only weeds, not appreciating that ‘looks’ are just the surface, that many ‘weeds’ are wonderful sources of nourishment, something we have forgotten as society’s many fashions ebb and flow…

    Our conversation on the phone just now has brought to mind an organisation we both shared, and how much, and how well at times feedback was a part of ‘business as usual’.

    I’ve been helping a homeless guy out. He’s been bunking with us for the past 4 months, out every day building a business and a better life for himself. He has a felony record – from a younger time, when he was silly – and we’ve all been there. He gave me some wonderful feedback just before Christmas – a great present really. He told me that he really appreciated the honest, non-judgemental observations about him that I shared with him. He’s used that to find more useful ways to engage with clients, and with his daughter as she steps out in to the World on her own.

    My point? Feedback is an incredible resource, and incredible gift. It can be given for very little, it can be received for very little. But it’s impact can, does, and has, changed and shaped this little planet of ours for the better.

    Thank you Jon for sharing.

  3. Isabel Guedes says:

    You are a great listener Jon! It is a fact.
    I experienced that peaceful, curious and playful space that you create, where I did felt safe to explore so many important issues for my personal journey. Thank you Jon.

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