Write Your Own Feedback

Sunday 27 April, 2014

It was the third day of his visit and the end of another productive day of silences, conversations, reading, writing and reflection. I had given the TA presentation in Amsterdam that evening and, as part of the process, I had asked the participants for their written feedback. I explained to them that although it obviously helps me, it is more important for them to take a couple of minutes to reflect for themselves. The exercise will bring more clarity to their experience and reinforce their learning. At home afterwards, as I knelt by the open, floor-level window of my apartment and Karaj sat in the armchair, we reflected on how well it had all gone. Outside, the country was celebrating. It was the first King’s Night here in the Netherlands for 122 years.

Participants had handed me their written feedback as they made their way from the lecture theatre. Some stopped to chat and by the time the last ones left, Karaj and I could be heard explaining to the man who had inspired the previous post, how important it is to stay away from game players. On our journey home, despite my curiosity (attachment), I decided not to look at the feedback until the following day. It had been a wonderful experience and there would be plenty of time tomorrow to go through people’s comments. Tonight was indeed a cause for celebration.

As our evening drew to a close, I told Karaj we would have a look at people’s feedback in the morning. Without any fuss or excitement, and delivered with his typically gentle authority, he said to me: ‘No. First write down what you think they have written. More accurately, write your own feedback of your presentation.‘ I was struck by the genius of the man and the experience he carries with him. He has done this so many times before. It is a standard procedure for him. He added: ‘When the feedback you have written is the same as what they have written, you are calm.’

The following morning, on my walk in the park, I wondered how to do it. A part of me wanted to get it right, and then I thought of a client who, whenever she did any of the assignments I gave her, always went through similar thoughts. So I told myself what I always told her: ‘There is no right or wrong answer, there is only my answer. And whatever I write, will tell me something about myself.‘ This is what I wrote (Karaj’s corrections are in brackets):

  1. Fascinating.
  2. Useful.
  3. Insightful.
  4. Too much information. [Karaj: It was informative. These are MBA students.]
  5. Excellent everyday examples helped to explain the theory.
  6. Made me see just how much information is available when we look.
  7. Engaging presentation.
  8. Too lighthearted. [Karaj: It was lighthearted.]
  9. Jonathan & Karaj made me see how much I can help myself in situations.
  10. Awareness is the key.
  11. You have clearly lived this. You are able to relate to people’s questions and issues easily with just a few simple rules.
  12. You connected with people by telling your story.
  13. Inspiring.
  14. You offered ways to improve my life which I wasn’t expecting. Awareness, observation, feedback, discipline, patience.
  15. I learnt that it’s a process. Step by step change is the way forward rather than expect big changes overnight.
  16. Your story really helped to make the subject of personal development real.
  17. It was too quick. [Karaj: It was at the right pace. These are MBA students.]
  18. I would have liked more exercises to do rather than just listen to a presentation. [Karaj: It was a presentation not a workshop.]
  19. It was better than I expected. And different. More personal.
  20. It made life clearer.

After a thorough discussion with Karaj, I felt what he had told me the night before: ‘When you have written your own feedback, it no longer matters what the others have written.‘ Karaj then asked me this: ‘Given what you have written, what would you change about your presentation?‘ I replied that I would change nothing and he showed me how I could incorporate my own feedback into my next presentation (and for whom).

Eventually, we went through the feedback sheets. There had been 15 people present and their feedback covered everything written above, and more. I thought again about our conversation from the previous evening, and I remembered the feelings I’d had by the open window: I felt fortunate because here was a wise man giving me guidance from my armchair. The symbolism did not escape me either: a few hours previously he had been sitting in the front row of my presentation contributing to my work and then, on the eve of King’s Day, I found myself sitting at his feet. Honoured and humble.

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