A few months ago I took part in a study that was researching how people felt about giving and receiving negative feedback. The study compared the emotions people experienced when giving vs receiving negative feedback or criticism. As a coach and a teacher, this is a topic of particular importance to me, and I think it is very important for all students to consider as well.
Of course, as Ido Portal once said everyone is both a student and a teacher: we are all learning all the time and everyone has someone who looks up to them, imitates them, copies them... so I believe this is an important topic for everyone to consider. For the purposes of this writing, I will call the person giving feedback “the teacher” and the person receiving feedback “the student” - even though in most relationships there is a two way flow of learning, teaching and sharing.
What we say to others (and how we say it) has a lasting impact on those we speak to. How we take in the words of others has a lasting impact on our Self.
Essentially, whether honest feedback is taken as negative or positive depends more or less on two things: intention and perception. Let’s start by examining intention.
Intention is the driving force behind the comment or criticism. Did the teacher speak with the student’s best interests at heart? Are they trying to help the student or were they asserting their own superiority, power or dominance?
If you are the student, can you separate your teacher’s intentions and motivations from the content of what they say to you? No teacher I have ever met is totally free of ego (true of students as well) and so some extent there will always be some subject motivation that needs to be separated out. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s helpful to see it and remember it when receiving criticism as this can soften the blow and take out the sting.
If you are the teacher, try to take a moment to reflect before giving feedback:
do they need to hear this, or could they find the answer on their own?
Is it a safety concern or is it just your own personal preference?
Is it possible the opposite is also true?
Did they ask me for feedback? Why am I giving this criticism if they didn’t?
Who am I to make this judgement? Am I really qualified to make these recommendations, and if not, is there possibility of harm if I am wrong?
Perception is the way we interpret the content we’ve received. It depends a lot on our education and culture: the way we were brought up to understand and value criticism and feedback. It also fluctuates: depending on our environment and our mood we will be able to hear criticism in a different light.
A major player in difficulty receiving feedback for the student is attachment. To understand more about the connection between suffering and attachment, I’d highly recommend reading more about Zen philosophy, and the illusion of impermanence (“Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” is a good place to start). The more the student is attached to something, the less they are able to tolerate it being criticised. For example it may be very easy to receive feedback on a job you don’t enjoy, but it might be much harder to hear feedback on a project you are passionate about. Similarly, criticism about your appearance might be less difficult to hear than criticism about the behaviour of your child or loved one.
If you have received negative feedback, and you felt hurt or disagreed with it outright, perhaps you could ask: why do I not want to hear this? Can I listen to the truth in this? Even if it isn’t completely true, most criticism can teach us something. If we aren’t willing to listen perhaps we are missing out on an opportunity to learn something.
As the teacher, we have far less influence on perception, but it is worth being aware of it. Before giving feedback, check in with the student’s emotional state: are they in a place to listen. This is where the importance of a personal meaningful coaching relationship is crucial: the more the teacher gets to know the student, the better they can tailor their message. The deeper the trust between student and teacher, the easier communication will be and the better the student will be able to hear the feedback the teacher gives them.
Do you struggle with giving or receiving feedback? Tell me more about your relationship to this topic! I want to know your views.
If you’re interested in exploring improvisational games, and getting to know your body with a greater level of awareness and sensitivity, please do join me on my Thursday evening classes with London Movement Group, where we will be exploring just that!
"Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning " - Bill Gates
Tuesday 22nd, Floorwork Class @ Localmotion, 7:00pm book here
Wednesday 23rd, Climbing Social @ Ravenswall, 6:00pm book here
Thursday 24t, Sensitivity & Awareness @ Hyde Park, 7:00pm book here
Saturday 26th, Move & Play @ Hyde Park, 2:00pm book here book here
1-1 sessions available