Spaces for Growth: Learning How to Give and Receive Positive Feedback
One of the premises we hold at MetaDocencia is that no one is born knowing how to provide positive feedback. This skillt can be learned, but is rarely taught. In general, we tend to describe what we do not like or what bothers us by giving negative feedback that is not specific about the next step to improve or, in Mafalda’s words:
This Mafalda comic strip was created by Argentinian cartoonist Quino. Translation: "-Mom, can I tell you that this soup is a dreadful beverage? Uh? And that it is the filthiest thing I have ever tasted in my life? Or do you resent constructive criticism?
Feedback like the above does not allow for personal learning and does not favor collaboration. So, what features must a feedback statement have in order to be assertive? We identified three:
- be positive,
- be specific, and
- suggest a next step.
Still on the the Mafalda cartoon example, she hates soup but could improve the feedback: "-Mom, I like spinach soup, but it is too spicy. Next time would you please add less salt and pepper?". This feedback is a way to give her mom a tool to improve, learn, and adapt to a specific request, being attentive to her well-being and the time she invested in cooking.
A Space for Community Growth
Aware of the importance of holding spaces that nurture personal and collective growth and development, in 2022 MetaDocencia created the “MEC survey”, an acronym derived from “MetaDocencia: Espacios de Crecimiento” (“MetaDocencia Spaces for Growth”).
This tool is based on our community values of integrity and well-being, with the additional benefit of allowing us to give and receive systematic feedback and learn how to improve our team work. This survey supports us to identify strengths and areas where there is an opportunity for growth, both individually and as an organization.
MEC is occasionally mandatory and never anonymous, and is implemented on a continuous and regular basis. Every three to six months it enables respectful team exchanges, leaving room for self-assessment and assertive feedback from other individuals and subteams. Each person completes their self-evaluation and invites peers and supervisees to share theirs. We recommend extending the invitation to supervisors that follow the work closely, so that they can provide feedback based on concrete and daily actions derived directly from our institutional values.
The exchange prompted by the survey makes room to showcase achievements, but also highlights the areas, attitudes, and values to continue developing individually and collectively from an empathetic, diverse, and inclusive perspective.
Another added value of the survey is that it is a democratic tool: all MetaDocencia members participate, regardless of their positions and roles.
The last step is a personal review of survey results with the executive directors, when all parts share and discuss the lessons learned.
Although taking the MEC is always a bit nerve-wracking (because that is what evaluations always do to us), at MetaDocencia we enjoy this moment and always end up learning something. The Executive Team led by example by being the first to take the survey and share results with the rest of the group.
The exchange space allowed by MEC is vital for our community: it reinforces collective growth, contributes to sustaining the proposed goals, and to achieve goals within a culture of wellness.
We invite to fellow communities to share their experiences on how to enhance similar learning processes.
Additional Tips for Giving and Receiving Positive Feedback*
Tips for providing positive feedback
- A person’s first feedback should not be given during a performance review meeting: “Performance reviews should be the culmination of everything that has already been talked about” (Reid Whyte, executive HR manager, Human Rights Campaign).
- If you are leading a group of people, it is essential to pay attention to the influence or power you can exert over them (and its positive or negative effect).
- Try to keep feedback constructive and concise. Provide the opportunity to silently process.
- Before starting, it is helpful to ask ourselves: is there anything I would like to provide or ask for in this conversation?
- Offer the possibility to process and assimilate feedback points first, as well as a chance to continue the discussion at a different time.
Tips for receiving positive feedback
- Allow yourself to digest it first. You do not need to respond immediately. If necessary, ask for more quiet time and/or to continue the session at a different time.
- Take care of yourself! Notice the sensations in your body and pay attention to patterns that arise.
- Focus on gratitude and the positives of having had a feedback instance.
- When in doubt, ask if you can confirm what you heard to verify that you understood your feedback correctly. For example: “Let me see if I understood you correctly. Did you mean to say this ……?
- Before starting the conversation, it is helpful to ask ourselves: “Is there anything I want to offer or ask for?
*These tips were adapted from the workshop “How to give, receive and implement feedback”, offered by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and taught by Laila Makled from @push2exist. We are incredibly grateful that these sessions had live interpretation in Spanish.
Finally, in general and within any organization, the people with the most power should be those who set the example by first being evaluated by whom they directly or indirectly supervise. This fosters an environment of positive feedback and communication flow. Always use transparency to support improvement and maintain truth among the team, sharing how you will address any feedback received ✨.
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Here is the citation we recommend you use:
Pendino, R., Míguez, P., Alonso, M., Ascenzi, L. D., & Ación, L. (2023). Spaces for Growth: Learning How to Give and Receive Positive Feedback. Zenodo. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.10075799