Feedback that feeds the soul

By Rick Duncan

Watch the lead trainers at a Train the Trainer Retreat, and you’ll see them huddling together, engaged in deep conversations. Lots of times, you’ll hear comments like, “Thanks, I never thought of that,” “I’ll add that to the mix next time,” and “I’ll try not to do that again.” You’ll hear laughter and see some high fives or fist bumps.

They’re not talking about the weather or their favorite sports teams (or you!). They’re giving and receiving feedback that feeds the soul. Sometimes the trainer is encouraged to self-evaluate: “What did you do that you think went well?” and “What do you think you could have done better?”

Feedback happens frequently because of two deeply held values: (1) Always be improving and (2) Create a culture of encouragement.

Feedback is one of the most vital tools we can use to improve as leaders. We see it in the Bible in Exodus 18, when Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, gives Moses some feedback after watching a busy day of ministry. Moses listened to the feedback that might have saved not only his ministry, but also his marriage!

The idea of feedback, however, often carries a negative connotation. Some of our experiences with feedback have been critical, rather than edifying. And, sadly, studies show that we are more deeply affected by criticisms than we are by encouragements. Neuroscience tells us why.

Richard and Judith Glaser wrote “The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations” for the Harvard Business Review. They observed, “When we face criticism, rejection or fear, when we feel marginalized or minimized, our bodies produce higher levels of cortisol, a hormone that shuts down the thinking center of our brains … We become more reactive ….”

The Glasers also share the flip side: “Positive comments and conversations produce a chemical reaction, too. They spur the production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that elevates our ability to communicate, collaborate, and trust others by activating networks in our prefrontal cortex. But oxytocin metabolizes more quickly than cortisol, so its effects are less dramatic and long-lasting.”

Feedback that feeds the soul minimizes cortisol and maximizes oxytocin!

Leveraging the “chemistry of conversations” is vital to increase what the Glasers call “Conversational Intelligence” (C-IQ), a person’s ability to connect and think innovatively, empathetically, creatively, and strategically with others. Behaviors that spark oxytocin raise C-IQ.

So, how can you as a trainer create a culture of feedback that actually feeds the soul, instead of starving it?

Here are five habits that will create a culture of feedback that feeds the soul:

Collaborate. Don’t train alone! Be on a team of trainers. Leverage your relationships. Your co-trainers may think it’s not their place to give you feedback, but let them know their feedback is needed and valued. Your goal is to create powerful and positive relationships with your team where mutual constructive feedback is the norm.

Model. Be a model for your team by seeking honest feedback. Before a session begins, share with your co-trainer a specific goal you have for that session. The goal could be something related to one of your “Traits of a Great Trainer.” Afterward, ask your co-trainer, “What did I do well? What could I have done better?” If you are someone who is comfortable with admitting flaws and mistakes, your team will be more likely to offer their wisdom. Doing this regularly will instill a culture of feedback.

Understand. When someone shares feedback with you, listen closely. Allow the person to share their complete thoughts, without interruption. When they’re done, repeat back what you heard. For example, “I hear you saying that I could have asked a better follow-up question (or that I could have better led the learner toward self-discovery), is that right?”

Appreciate. Look the person in the eye and thank them for sharing their feedback with you. Be deliberate and say, “I really appreciate you talking about this with me.” Expressing appreciation doesn’t mean you always agree with the assessment, but it shows that you value your co-trainer’s insights.

Process. Getting constructive feedback is one of the best ways way we can grow as trainers if we will take it to heart and create some next steps for ourselves as a result of what we’ve heard. Without it, we can’t improve. Remember, feedback is not always easy to give — and it’s certainly not easy to receive — but it will help us now and in the long run. So, summarize, prioritize, and build specific steps into your personal growth plan, based on the feedback you receive. Write down the specifics about what you are going to do to grow in your confidence and competence as a trainer.

Feedback that feeds the soul comes only from people who care about you and want your best. Keep in mind that building this level of trust takes time. Your team members have to trust you and you have to trust them. It’s important to give feedback in a way that is supportive.

This is how to limit the cortisol and leverage the oxytocin!

This is how feedback can feed a soul.


Transformational learning questions:

  • What did you learn about giving feedback from this article?
  • Read Exodus 18. What principles about giving and receiving feedback can you learn from this story?
  • Where do you see Jesus giving feedback to His followers?
  • Who do you know who is good at giving feedback? Why are they good at it?
  • Which of the 5 habits are you practicing best? How can you leverage that?
  • Which of the 5 habits needs your attention?
  • What are 1-2 action steps you need to take to improve your ability to give feedback?
  • What are 1-2 action steps you need to take to improve your ability to receive feedback?

Published April 17, 2018

Rick Duncan

Rick Duncan currently serves as the East Coast Trainer for the Send Network, the church planting arm of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). As an appointed missionary by NAMB in 1986, Rick was Founding Pastor of Cuyahoga Valley Church (CVC) near Cleveland. A graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, Rick earned All-SEC baseball honors three times as an outfielder. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins and spent five years playing professional baseball. Before becoming a pastor, Rick served four years on staff of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Jacksonville, Florida. Rick graduated from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He loves to encourage younger leaders to create environments that God can use to invite people to new life in Christ. After 42 years of marriage, Rick is still in love with his wife, Maryanne. He enjoys spending time with his three sons: Alan, Ryan, and Evan. He is the proud father-in-law of Joanna, Alan's bride, and the proud grandfather of Ethan (7) and Caleb (3).