The Literacy of Feedback

The literacy of feedback involves an understanding of the conscious and unconscious language within exchange.

My work, whether in board rooms or stables, consistently returns to one topic, developing a meaningful level of self awareness! Even if it is not the core agenda, it so often rears its head.

Author Tasha Eurich in her book Insight talks about self awareness as THE challenge of the 21st century. This resonates deeply with me. So how do we facilitate this edification?

Making it personal

I was one of those shy children who generally seek to make themselves smaller, to not be seen. Venturing forth from there was rarely more adventurous than an act of wanting to please. In this place of quiet safety I found an intuitive awareness of how others were and the potential effect I had on them. Life and communication was subject to a living risk assessment.

In the language of the Johari window there was a strong intuitive need to reach into my unseen self. Here was a connection to the receipt of my communication, and response to it, and a comparison to my initial intention.

This was to be a very powerful tool when I properly encountered horses. From those first encounters I was often drawn to the idea of the damaged horse. These beings were ones that I was drawn to. I could not always put this into words but these were animals that I reached out to. In these encounters I had keep both self and horse safe. I could not instruct this. I had to create safe. Safe in context was embodied.

Asking the right question

So I developed a simple measure which I engaged throughout these encounters, this was “what did I do to make that happen?” I looked upon the horse’s behaviour as communication which was a response to my embodied messages of action. Whether that manifest in them simply turning to sniff my hand, moving their bodies closer, or physically needing to defend.

I learned that, in time and without pressure, pained animals would accept me when I established a state of stillness that limited the pressure perceived by them. A non-threatening, non-demanding stillness. I nurtured an idea of “without intention”, for intention carries an unconscious communication that could drive an animal away.

Whether that be an energetic felt sense, or a subtle read of shift in body language. Herein is the key to the lexicon that underlies the literacy of feedback. This learning quickly reached beyond the stable.

These lessons touch all of life

I have generally found that I can work with most people. That similarly intuitive understanding of how people reacted to me, helped me to work with them. This enabled me to create positive and effective engagements. These experiences nurtured what Patsy Rodenberg calls the “second circle" of energy, a place of balance exchange, a place of authentic and honest connection.

They also form the foundation of what I have defined within The ABC of Somatic Presence. This is a cycle that reflects the subtle dance which occurs between two beings, or beings and their environment. It creates and sustains safe, supportive and balanced interactions.

The challenge is finding safe paces and ways to develop a literacy of feedback. Without feedback social awareness does not happen. We need to become fluent in the conscious interpretation of that which comes back to us.

Behaviour as communication

NLP talks about the "meaning of communication being the response you get". A manageable first step is to be more curious about how your messages land, or what behaviour in others your actions illicits. Is there a concurrence between your intention and the response or reaction that arises.

Most importantly, what if there is not the desired alignment. Too often we then dismiss these situations as sub-optimal behaviour in the recipient, but what if it is actually their honest reaction to us? This is what I learned from the practice I have described.

Even if a meant well, if others were challenged or threatened in the situation, then the intention was lost.

So what did I learn from the horses? To be curious, to recognise that the personal act of wanting to help or hug is not actually helping, helping is an empathetic understanding what is needed, and holding that space.

Our human interactions are the same. How does this person or that person need to receive the message, what language, what medium. How do I need to be, to make them most receptive. It is about a dynamic adaptive interaction with the feedback that we receive.

If our message does not land, do we try to understand why, or do we tie ourselves in knots of repetition and justification. Digging ourselves deeper trying to explain what we meant rather than reflecting the response received.

To be open to an understanding of some other clearly, we must step away from ourselves and agenda.

There is no one formula to developing this literacy of feedback, but we can open and objective state within ourselves in which we might nurture it.


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