Feedback is enormously valuable to the writer or storyteller, and at the same time it is often quite difficult to hear. It’s valuable because it validates my communication, and reminds me that I do affect others. It’s difficult because I learn that what is obvious to me may not be so to others. It means I have more work to do.
I became much better at receiving feedback on my work when I learned how to give it. Feedback does not mean advice. Instead, it just means you get to give the writer clues to how their writing makes you feel – which words or phrases did the writer use that had the most energy for you? Where do you think they showed up in their writing?
To be valuable, feedback must be encouraging. Criticism often causes people to stop listening, get defensive, or feel guilty, and has no place in giving feedback. I have developed four “rules” on giving feedback, which are:
1. Do not withhold admiration. Look for something in the writer’s piece that you find enjoyable, interesting, or moving – and be determined to find it. When you do, say so. Always praise, never condemn.
2. Be honest. Your appreciation cannot be phony. We all know when people are trying to “butter us up” or giving us empty praise. If you are really listening, you will find something that you honestly admire.
3. Ask questions to clarify understanding. When listening to the storyteller or reading the piece, ask yourself if you can see, hear, smell, or touch what is happening in the story. If you can’t get a “sense” of the story, ask a question. As tellers of our own stories, we are so close to the action that we often forget to give color and detail. Feedback questions can help the storyteller “flesh out” their stories and make them more alive.
4. Tell the storyteller what the story meant to you. We all long for meaning in our lives. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” When we live consciously, when we pay attention to our lives, we are aware that what we do, say, think and feel has consequences not only for ourselves and our families, but for every creature on the earth. Even for the Earth itself. Search for the meaning in the stories you read or hear by asking yourself interpretation questions: Where do I see a connection? Do many people act or feel this way? Do I? Where is there a lesson in this story? Did I learn something? Is there a timeless or universal teaching present in this story? Did this story inspire me? Did it change my opinions? Is there a hero in the story? Do I want to emulate them? Did it give me courage to undertake something difficult? Did it enable me to forgive someone’s actions? Did I feel complete, or peaceful, when I heard this story? Give feedback in this form, as in “I think the lesson in this story was …” or “I was inspired by your account of …” or “I think this is a story of connection because …” or “This was a healing story for me because …” This is the most non-judgmental yet meaningful way to give feedback. It increases the depth, texture and emotional richness of the stories you tell and hear.
Sharing your stories with each other leads to powerful insights. You will probably recognize yourself in another’s story, as they will recognize themselves in yours. You will be taught, and you will teach. Your story might help another to grow, or their stories may
change you. You will laugh together, and you might even cry.
You will see that the actions, thoughts and feelings of everyone matter.
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