“Hey, I’ve got an idea for you!”
“Have you ever thought about . . . ?”
“I don’t understand why you do this like you do. . .”
Sixty-nine students. Six instructors. Two support staff. Five days. Almost 40 hours. Five hundred bottled waters and sodas. Pop-Tarts and granola bars. Countless Power Point slides. A couple of handfuls of role plays. Videos. Fishbowl mediation. Debriefing sessions. Discussions. Hallway conversations. Lunch table talk. Emails at night.
Oh, and a requested evaluation form at the end.
We were blessed a few weeks ago to have our online conflict resolution students with us for Residency Session. We had folks from around the world and from all walks of life – human resource professionals, ministers, teachers, fitness instructors, paralegals, attorneys, insurance executives, police chaplains, customer service representatives, accountants, nurses, higher education administrators, non-profit organization executives. Oh, and our best known local personality, our NBC television news anchor. The group was simply incredible.
They worked together well. They helped each other – for the most part. The measure of the week was in its good spirit.
By the time the closing ceremonies ended, our faculty and staff was exhausted and ready to move on. Yet, we all felt profoundly enriched by getting to be with these marvelous people.
The week after still spun slowly in the afterglow. But there was that insidious evaluation form to review and tabulate. All in all, the feedback was fair and well-balanced. The students recognized some of the same weaknesses we had spotted. They praised the week heavily for the most part.
But we had to ask the question that must be asked – “What could be done to improve the Residency?” The answers ranged widely from choice of breakfast food to too much review material to too little review material to too many role plays to not enough role plays. We received criticism for making the schedule too long and making it too short.
We first reviewed the evaluation form at our staff meeting. Despite the praise, all we could focus on was the minority report. Instead of feeling pleased that our students and our friends were honoring us with their openness, we became initially defensive.
Feedback. We seek feedback. Yet, when we receive feedback we almost always look on our critics with astonishment. As if to say, “Yes, I asked you for your opinion, but I really didn’t expect you to give it to me.”
And now, a few days later, a few of those negative comments still sting. But more and more we have begun to see the beauty of welcoming conversation – even when it points out our deficiencies.
When we bring people to our peace tables and we urge them to be honest with each other, why are we surprised when well-intentioned feedback breeds defensiveness and spurs escalation of the conflict? It’s at those times that we should remind those sitting with us – and ourselves – that honest opinion and well-meaning intent should be treasured as gifts.
Even the best of us tire of feedback occasionally. Challenge yourself and those in conflict who you assist to seek feedback, to listen for meaning, to test for grace, and to respond in kindness. For without feedback, deep relationships will not be fed.
And we all desire and need deep relationships.