Is “Feedback” a Dirty Word?

I was having a chat with a government employee today and he said that he wanted to have a “culture of feedback” in his department.  His background was investigative where it was common practice to come together as a group, share information and offer feedback to each other.  They would work together so that the end result was greater than any of them could have done alone.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????His idea of feedback is sharing so that the whole team is made better. It makes sense.

Not many of us approach the idea of feedback that way.  We often respond to it as criticism and a personal threat. My sense is we do that because most of us have experienced “feedback” that was hurtful, attacking, a put down, and shame producing. I don’t know about you, but after receiving “feedback” like that, I become less open to hearing more of the same.

Yet, if we aren’t open for feedback, we send the message to others not to give it to us and they won’t.  Soon we are operating with limited information.  We don’t know if what we are doing is working or not working.  We are, at best, guessing. We need to know what others are thinking so we can make adjustments.

I’ve been in a writers critique group for years and I remember in the early days having emotional reactions to the critique of my fellow writers.  Since having learned to manage the critique better, I notice I get much fuller and more specific feedback.  It was like my colleagues knew that I was reacting to their feedback so they filtered what they said to me.  Now I get lots of good feedback and it has helped my writing immensely.

Learning to receive feedback is a skill to be learned.  Here are some tips to help with receiving feedback well:

1/ Remember that feedback is about fostering your own growth.

2/ Seek out people who can give you balanced as well as supportive feedback.

3/ Ask for coaching. You are the most important person in your own growth. Know you’re surrounded by people you can learn from.

4/ When you find yourself reacting to what someone is saying – manage your internal dialogue and become curious.  Remember, you get to decide what you want to do with the feedback you’re given.

5/ Feedback is always about how the other person perceives things.  It is neither right nor wrong.  It’s just their perspective. If you can keep that in mind, you can make choices about how you want to respond. You can listen and enquire.  You can assert yourself and then enquire.  You can listen to some of it.  You can listen and then decide to ignore it.  It’s all up to you.

A book that I highly recommend is “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen.  All the best with the feedback coming your way!

She Dies Alone

She gets up clutching the collar of her blouse.  Her companions look at her, questioning.  She waves them off and makes her way to the ladies room.  She can’t catch her breath.  She grabs her throat hoping to dislodge the piece of chicken caught in it.  She tries slamming herself against the wall.  Nothing.  She grabs the sink, sliding slowly to the floor, her mouth trying desperately to pull air into her lungs.  She dies quietly and alone.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????In a class on group dynamics that I recently taught, we were discussing how powerful group pressure is in keeping members from speaking up.  During the discussion, a female firefighter told the group that it was common to get called to restaurants for choking incidents.  It was shocking to her how often the firefighters would come to find women who had died alone and silently in the ladies washroom.  When she told this story to the group, you could hear a pin drop in the room.  We were stunned.

This image stayed with me for weeks.  Women dying rather than causing discomfort for others. Women wanting to avoid causing a fuss. Not wanting to be a bother. Wanting to take care of things themselves.

My heart bleeds for them.  I desperately want them to have a voice – to speak up and say want they need.

Even though we think we have made strides in gender equality – we still have a long way to go.


How I Learned to Appreciate Anger: Managing the Response – Part 2

I don’t know about you but when I get angry I sometimes get swamped with the emotions and the physiological response going on in my body.  My heart races, my face and neck flush, thoughts fly around in my head.  I bet you know what I’m talking about.

When that anger response happens, we know we’re upset.  We know something is off-balance.  We feel the urge to take care of it in some manner.  But, many of us have learned to either stuff it, deny it, talk ourselves out of it or just plain lash out.  In the face of those options, we often do nothing.  We fear hurting the other person or being hurt ourselves.

Anger is giving us the message that a relationship or situation needs to get rebalanced so doing nothing is, usually, not a good strategy. I say, usually, because there are exceptions. If there is a real chance that I can get physically hurt, then perhaps saying nothing is a good strategy, for now.  Later, I can plan what I want to do next when the time is right.

It is often helpful to take time to get clear on how we wish to speak up in a situation, be it at the office or at home.  Here are some strategies that I have found to be useful:

1/ write it down – journaling or writing a letter, which you may or may not decide to send, can clarify things for you. It also stops you from playing angry thoughts over and over in your mind plotting what you want to say.  Once it’s down on paper – you know you have captured it and don’t need to keep replaying it.  Hours can be spent on ruminating.  Get it out of your head and onto paper or onto your computer screen.

2/go for a walkwalking allows your physical reaction to subside.  When your mind is calmer, you can think more clearly and then make decisions.  If you prefer some other physical activity such as swimming, running, or bicycling – they can work as well.

3/ talk to a coach talking to a trusted coach or friend can be useful.  The coach/friend can assist you to see where the imbalance in the relationship or situation is and can help you to decide on a constructive plan of action.

Whatever the strategy chosen – remember that anger can be a potent force that can fuel the desire to speak up to rebalance a situation. It helps us gain our self-respect and gives us the chance of having reciprocity in our interactions with others.  It’s the gift of anger!

How I Learned to Appreciate Anger – Part 1

Alright, so maybe not appreciate it but as I understand it better, I get the importance of it and I get the gift in it.  Yes, anger bestows a gift.

I just finished a wonderful article by Joanne Ellison Rodgers called “Go Forth in Anger”.  It’s found in the April 2014 edition of Psychology Today. In the article Rodgers talks about researchers discovering that anger is a form of social communication.  In other words, we need it to build strong connections with each other. Anger is important because without it we are unlikely to be clear on who we are in relation to others.

While fear, sadness, and anxiety prompt avoidance behaviours, anger fuels us to take on challenges.  Anger, like love, lust, anxiety, sadness and fear, is built in.  We are born hardwired for those emotions.  Nature provided them for survival and growth.

The Purpose of Anger

We are wired to get angry when others insult or exploit us.  Anger gets aroused when, in our estimation, the other person is getting too much and we are getting too little.  When our anger encourages us to speak up and set boundaries, it alerts the other person that there’s an expectation of an increase in valuing and caring for us.  Anger tells us that we feel someone isn’t valuing us enough in relation to how they are valuing themselves.  In effect, anger helps to re-establish the balance.

Let’s say you and I go out for dinner on several occasions and each time you leave me to take care of the bill. Such behaviour will arouse my anger because it’s an indication of lack of respect for my worth.  By standing up for reciprocal cost sharing, I am standing up for myself.  My anger encourages me to set a boundary with you which can then encourage a cooperative and respectful relationship.

Yes, anger is a potent force not to be ignored or denied but used to fuel our self-respect and to gain us reciprocity in our interactions with others.  There is a gift to be had there!


Confessions of a Story Teller



I have a confession.  I’m a storyteller.  I tell stories.   And, here’s an interesting fact, so do you!  In this blog I am going to illustrate to you why and how we’re all born story tellers and how being aware of our stories can change our lives.

Stories are crucial to our evolution.  Stories are what make us human, not in a metaphorical sense but in a literal sense.  Our brains are hardwired to create stories and to respond to stories.

Hers is an example.  A cat sits on the sidewalk and a bird lands close by.  The cat goes into stalk mode and pounces.  He misses the bird.  What does the cat do next?  He shakes himself, walks off and curls up for a nap.  What he doesn’t do is create a story about what happened.

Now imagine this.  A human sits on the sidewalk with his bird catching net.  A bird lands nearby and the human swings but misses the bird.  What might the human do next?  We might hear this – “I’m such a bad hunter”, “I shouldn’t have tried to catch that bird, I knew I couldn’t do it”, “I hope nobody was watching me, they’ll think I’m a total loser”, “Maybe I should take up basket weaving, I’ll probably be better at that.”  The human makes up a story about what happened.

Why do we make stories up?  We do it to makes sense of the tremendous amount of information coming at us continually.  We do it to survive. Our brain is faced with a problem of what to do with all the information coming at us and so the solution is found, storytelling.

As Antonia Damasio says in his book, “Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain”storytelling is something our brains do, naturally an implicitly….It should be no surprise that it pervades the entire fabric of human societies and cultures.”

We think in story. We are constantly seeking meaning.  We are meaning makers.

As Lisa Cron says in her wonderful book, “Wired for Story”, “we are always looking for the why beneath what’s happening on the surface.”  We like to make sense of things and we certainly don’t like being confused.  So, when something happens in our lives, we don’t just look at what happened – we create a story about what happened.  Here is an example:

What Happened

I was away from work and while I was away my boss

assigned a project that I wanted to someone else in the office.

My Story about What Happened

My boss knew I wanted that project.  He purposefully and maliciously waited until I was away so he could give the project to someone else, his favourite.  He wanted to humiliate me so I would quit my job.

After we create our story(meaning), we then operate out of that story as if it were true.  The repeating of our stories to ourselves and others limits our vision of what is possible.  We narrow our scope of possibility.  The more we repeat these stories, the more linked the neural pathways become in our brain.  It’s like we are building a path and the more we use it – it becomes a “super highway.”

The good news in all this is that we can change our stories and change our brains.  Our brains are very malleable and we have the ability to rewire and create new neural pathways and new stories to change the quality of our lives.

When we change our perception – our stories – we can change our reality.

How you ask??

We need to utilize our “thinking” brains – our pre-frontal cortex.  The frontal lobe is the conductor in front of the orchestra.  We have the free will to place our attention where we want.  It requires clear intent.

As Joe Dispenza, D.C. says in “Evolve Your Brain”, “when we use this part of our brain to its capacity, our behaviour matches our purpose, and our actions match our intent – our mind and body are one.”

Some things to consider that will help us write the story we want for ourselves:

1/ Become self-aware.  This requires turning down the noise of our lives and becoming observant to our stories.  Complaints are good indicators of the stories we are telling ourselves.

2/ Make the commitment to change the story.  Don’t let discomfort be a deterrent to change.

3/ Use mental rehearsal to see yourself with the story you want to create.  Do it often.  Mental rehearsal builds new neural pathways.

4/ Fall in love with the idea of a new possibility – a new story – and tell it often.  Tell others and enroll them in your story.

Yes, I’m a storyteller.  Having this knowledge helps me write the stories that can enhance my life and can make dealing with conflict easier and more productive. Hopefully, it can do that for you too.



Why Managing Conflicts Makes Good Business Sense

business team in a meeting

Recently I read an article that talked about the importance of resolving disputes in the work environment. (The article is found in Douglas Magazine, “Why Mediation Should be Part of Your Business’s Tool Kit.) The article talks about how undealt with conflict can negatively impact a business or organization. I have seen many organizations suffer over the years when conflicts are left to build momentum. As one of my clients said recently about a conflict, “it was like a tornado. It started small, gained strength and then unleashed its power all over us.”

Why are conflicts left to gain power? In the above mentioned article, Kari Boyle, Executive Director of Mediate BC, is quoted as saying that “only 13 percent of managers in a recent Canadian survey felt they were effective in dealing with these conflicts.” My experience tells me this is true. Many managers do not feel equipped to deal with the conflict, so they avoid it, hoping it will somehow resolve itself. It rarely does.

Many organizations don’t encourage up front, face to face conflict resolution. Things are left until someone puts in a complaint or grievance and then things turn adversarial quickly, making it difficult to return to a more cooperative discussion.

The organizations and businesses that have policies and expectations that conflict will be dealt with and actively encourage it, tend to fare better. I encourage organizations to train managers and supervisors so that they feel more comfortable addressing a conflict. I also suggest to businesses that calling in a neutral third party facilitator, like myself, can assist with managing the conflict. It is better to call in someone, than to leave it until it is too late and the damage is irreversible.

Reframing: A Life Skill


All of us have challenges and difficulties in our lives. How we handle those challenges is extremely important. As we grow up, we like to give meaning to our experiences. We start creating stories about our lives. If you listen to others (and yourself) you can start to hear the story lines. “I’ve always been fat. It’s in my family genes.” “I never win. I always come out on the short end of the stick.” “I’m a great cook. Always have been.” “So many people in my family are divorced. I knew it was only time before it happened to me. I was right, I’m divorced.”

These story lines or frames affect how our life unfolds. Negative frames create negative patterns. Positive frames create positive patterns. This is where reframing comes into the picture. If you can consciously reframe your experience, you can change how you think and feel about it.

Here is an example – “I’m 65 years old and my spouse of 35 years has left me. I am crushed, humiliated and embarrassed. My life is over.” Now, if this person consciously chooses to think about it differently, actually catches the inner dialogue which is creating the story and pivot to something more constructive, their life will unfold in a new way. “My marriage of 35 years is over. I wasn’t expecting that. However, nothing is forever. I am sad and I will recover. I will start planning all the things I want to do in my life and do them. I will change my focus and see this as an opportunity.”

This reframing process may happen over time. The shift can occur quickly or it may occur gradually but the effect is the same – a conscious shifting of the story to something more life enhancing and future focused. It takes awareness and practice. Here are some steps that will help the process.

Tune into your feelings. Catch yourself feeling your emotions and if they feel negative you know the story you are telling yourself is not a constructive one.

Watch the wording. Listen to how you tell the story in your head (or even out loud to friends and family).

Choose to pivot away from the negative and toward the positive.

Keep at it. Eventually it becomes easier.

Reframing may take time, but stick with it; the effort will pay off. It is a powerful tool to help you create a new story and the life that you want.

Deborah is a writer, teacher, speaker and senior faculty at the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the Justice Institute of British Columbia.