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Coaching Fundamentals Part Three: Feedback

If – to use the metaphor from Part Two of Coaching Fundamentals – “coaching is a relationship between two people, in the moment, where one of them spins meaning out of their life story, and the other holds – and occasionally adjusts – the spinning wheel, and notices the patterns emerging”, how do those patterns get shared? This is where feedback comes in.

May I give you some feedback?” A question often followed by a judgement, an accusation, emotional outburst, unsolicited advice, unwarranted comment, or unsubstantiated evidence. If ever there was a question guaranteed to put up shutters and create defensiveness in even the most well-adjusted people, surely this is it. Which is why so many of us refrain from giving or receiving feedback, allowing instead conversations to remain unspoken, disagreements unresolved, behaviours unchanged, new insights uncreated.

Which is a shame in human relationships, and a crime in coaching.

What might be a helpful way of offering feedback in coaching?

The clue is in the word “offering”. There is a visceral difference between the act of giving (with its implications of forcing the other person to hold on to the gift that has been passed on), and the act of offering – which invites the other person to meet us half-way, to hold out and take the baton on, and choose what they want to do with it. Which could include dropping it, running away with it, examining it, smashing it to smithereens, or throwing it back to us.

The art of offering feedback includes the skills of lightness, non-righteousness, and exploration. Lightness in the act of offering, while at the same time fully owning our observations, and all the thoughts, feelings, insights and stories that have influenced us. Non-righteousness because this is not the only truth, and may indeed be not truthful at all for the other person. Which is where exploration comes in: exploration in conversation, seeing where this piece of feedback lands with the other person, how does it fit in with their reality, and what – if any – role it has in creating a new reality for them.

The other side of offering feedback is, of course, how it is received. And this is also where a coach can play a part in role-modelling a gracious, accepting and curious stance. A stance which has its foundations in the fact that any feedback is only a snapshot in time, a result of a particular interaction, observed through one’s own lenses of experience, wisdom and judgement. And like any snapshot taken by another person, it enables us to see a side of ourselves that we may not often see, and which exists, whether we like it or not. We can then choose what we want to do with this side: cover it up so that no-one sees it ever again, display it loud, out and proud, or integrate it within a greater patchwork of behaviours available to us.

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