The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

How to choose your feedback

Magic Mirror
Magic MirrorM. C. Escher


Just a few days ago I participated in a feedback marathon.

We were a bunch of coaches, consultants and trainers. In September of last year most of us had met. Now, 15 training days later, certification day had arrived.

One part of the day consisted in asking other participants for feedback. As a guideline our trainers had provided us with a list of 5 questions we could ask. We were free to choose the timing and the number of feedback.

After doing this feedback exercise I started to think about the different types of feedback and how we use them. When we give feedback we will always do it from the role we assume in that moment, but selecting the role not only depends on the relationship we have one with another but also on the distance want to keep. Sometimes the distance we keep are appropriate, sometimes they are the barriers we see or the mirror we don’t want to have.

Three ways to have impact

Performance & Behavior

The feedback we probably are most used to, is aimed at performance or behavior. Such feedback will be given to employees or colleagues. It is a somewhat factual and will describe desired actions or learning. There are numerous descriptions of such feedback techniques, may it be positive or negative.

Thinking about the idea to “feed back” this way to address performance and observed behavior allows best to provide incentives as well as regular updates on the given feedback as well as learning. Reaching mastery can be easily imagined.

Self Awareness & Awareness of Relationship

Years ago I had asked participants to do the same “multiple feedback” exercise at the end of a teambuilding. The idea was to help each other to share experiences. They were asked to share things they liked and found difficult to deal with in their relationship as a team. Through the individual exchange they could receive personal feedback and might also see a pattern in the feedback received from other participants. This helped them to grow as a team.

Allowing the participants to receive multiple feedback followed an idea given by Fritz Perls. The story goes that he shared the following metaphor:

If one person offers you peanuts, you don’t need to buy them. If you are offered them by two different persons you might think about buying them. If you are offered them more than three times, look into the mirror to see if you are sure that you are not a monkey

The information they were asked to share allowed to include subjective feedback. They were invited to describe their perception and the way they experienced each other. This didn’t mean that everyone had to change their behavior. It such a situation it is essential that the other person can decide if he or she accepts the feedback or not. Nevertheless, receiving a similar feedback from different persons is an invitation to reflect on it and even do something about it.

One option can be to discuss it in order to agree upon rules which support the relationship. As an example, imagine Will telling Tom that he is always late which is uncomfortable for Will. For Tom this is an invitation to understand the situation and find what Will might be looking for. Is it that Tom provides an excuse upon arriving late, is it a common decision what punctuality means, is it an information that he might arrive late …

Subjective feedback allows to raise awareness of the self as well as of the relationship between both.

Awareness of ourselves in a group

So there I was in the middle of my “feedback marathon”, again reminded that receiving feedback as well as giving feedback changes the awareness. We were all very concentrated and trying to give the best feedback we could, trying to provide an information or feeling allowing to grow. After so many training days in this group distances and barriers had been reduced. We didn’t want to simply stick to the surface of the visible.

Asking questions like “which image of me they would keep”, “which common moment they would remember” or “if they could put one single word on our relationship” we ended up giving various types of feedback. Showing each other mirrors and allowing our partners to “see through our eyes”, we gained the ability to see ourselves from the others perspective, understand how we impacted others and feel the kind of reaction we helped to create.

As a result we had yet another image of ourselves, allowing us to grow the awareness of the self and the awareness of ourselves within a group.

It was the kind of feedback that changes the relationship immediately by creating understanding.

During the feedback we were in fact adapting our resistance, lowering the barriers or releasing the tension towards the other to allow an impact. The picture we could see together allowed to see if our resonance was the same for us as for the other, that is, if for the other our feeling, thinking and acting seemed to be just as aligned as it seemed to us. There always is a difference and this is ok. When they are too far apart for us we will strive to change this. In this case it is our resilience which will help us to grow.

Have a try and watch the following video. This feedback idea is amazing too …

Take care!


[Original publication via, May 11, 2014]

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