You know how when something is new to you it seems to be coming up everywhere? Well this idea is an old treasure to me but the practice of living it is something I want to embody and any advice seems new. I have been listening to recordings of Miki Kashtan’s principle based teaching calls and participating on learning to teach Focusing calls, I work in a child-centred environment and am formulating how to go out in the world and share with adults what I know. So much teaching and learning very specific skills that I want to master and help others with but without hearing that I am wrong and without ‘wronging’ the other person.
The problem is simple, we want to know what we are learning and doing is ‘good enough’ so we need feedback, but most of us (me included for sure) switch off when we hear we are wrong. Our early childhood conditioning means that we were probably told we were wrong countless times, we felt shame and guilt or we might have felt angry or simply switched off to protect ourselves. It is easy to see how this pattern became engrained and in often leads to anxiety, depression, suppressing anger or becoming enraged. None of these responses are helpful yet they are often simmering below the surface. We feel hopeless so easily and judge ourselves harshly, even when the situation isn’t so serious – have you seen my recent posts on self dialogue while learning Contact Improv for fun? I’m so busy trying to be right in a learning context I cannot possibly expect my body to be free. When we are in positions where people have ‘power-over’ us, our employer, teacher, parent, a friend we owe-a-favour to, a child we feel guilt towards hearing that they don’t approve of us or think what we do is ‘wrong’ can be very destabilising.
People learn, create and discover when they feel safe, criticism,judgements and being wrong aren’t going to get us there. When we teach bodywork, communication skills or daily activities to children and want then to stay as much as possible within their own power we cannot be successful if we are telling them that they are wrong, but how else can we give feedback that enables them to learn a skill precisely?
Here are some ideas;
- Have empathy for the person who is learning or trying something new, why might they be doing what they are doing. Watch, take notice of how you feel, use your intuition.
- Give space for the person to be as they are and we want to be helpful and use our influence, we can only influence when someone trusts us.
- High anxiety, trauma, lack of trust (in themselves, you etc) , controlling session means people cannot listen yet. There is no point coaching or teaching an anxious person, go slower, give more time to develop the trust in you, themselves ad their context.
- Check before hand if the person wants to be precise and learn or simply experiment, get it wrong and see what is there. Both are valid options and the same people may want direct feedback at one time and space to try something out at others. Go with your instinct but don’t forget to check – see how they respond, do your suggestions help or hinder? .
- If the person does want feedback rather than say what they got wrong reflect back what you think was their main action and saying what you think is likely to happen as a consequence. Stay open to correction, but if you guess right the person is likely to see your point and accept it willing to learn something new rather than put their energy into resisting your ‘wronging’.
- Simply try to ground or anchor someone who does trust you but is going too fast to notice the value in what is happening, a gentle, ‘hang on a minute, I just want to check I understand this right…’. If the person keeps going trust that the deepest past of the person knows it was heard even if they keep running on verbally.
- When using materials to teach formulate them as Montessori did so that the materials give the feedback (for example, if something is not sequenced in order there are too many or too few) rather than the teacher and the learner can self-check independently.
- When working with groups of people together ask for other people’s ideas of what might be a consequence of doing this rather than that, so many voices, not just the trainers are heard.
By not giving impression that what someone is doing is wrong you allow them to continue opening like a flower to new experiences. Maybe later they will find the learning for themselves, but if you interrupt now you take the chance from them. If they want explicit learning ask, check and reshow. There is no need to pull apart the past – moments for learning are not tribunals.
Rather than tell people that what they are doing is wrong or right (being told you are right can also have negative effects but more of that later…) notice your tendency to correct, your own difficulty accepting the situation as it is. Notice how you judge yourself as a failed teacher when your pupil makes a mistake, a poor coach when your client is stuck, a terrible leader when people don’t ‘get it’ and build in some time to care for yourself.
What you want to show people is so important to you, but remember the things we learn rarely manifest themselves in training moment. Instead, plant the seeds and leave them to grow.
Also published on Medium.