Indeed, feedback is fundamental for our learning process, and a basic activity to help us improve our performance at the workplace. However, it is commonly perceived as a negative and painful experience. It is hard to listen to criticism because our brains are just not built to do this.
According to research, we experience feedback as a threat that challenges us in our very basic feelings of safety and belonging. It is an emotional reaction rather than a rational one. This explains why the feedback process is often avoided or performed ineffectively, at the workplace, at school, or even in our personal relationships.
In this context, the Feedback Project was created with the aim of creating a model to give and receive feedback in a positive and effective way developing art-based tools.
In this project, we propose a different approach to feedback: feedback is a gift. It is an energy to go on. It leads to a process of transformation that arts-based learning can enable through the facilitation of moments of reflection and, consequently, self-assessment, which can support individuals to improve, change and develop.
During a “training for trainers” activity in Liverpool last June, we immersed our participants in a creative process that involved creating sculptures, drawings and poems and using them as a departure point to provoke questions and ignite the feedback process.
As a result of these sessions, we came up with interesting feedback tools, one of them being the “Three Questions Tree”.
What is the “Three Questions Tree”?
It is a tool aimed at organisations to invite members to give feedback by asking three simple questions:
• What should we start doing? Or, what will help us to grow?
• What should we do differently?
• What should we stop doing?
A tree, symbolising the organisation, can be drawn on a big piece of paper or even be built on a visible part of the office. The answers to these questions can be written on post-its and placed on specific parts of the tree: the top leaves represent the questions “What should we start doing? Or, what will help us to grow? These answers are placed at the top, where the “fruits” of the tree are, representing new processes, activities or even new ideas for products or services that have the potential to grow the organisation. The trunk represents the question, what should we do differently? These answers refer to activities or processes that can be changed and improved.
Finally, the leaves on the floor represent, what should we stop doing? This thought-provoking question seeks to see the organisation with a critical perspective and openly discuss those activities that may not be contributing to the organisation’s development.
The questions can be changed or be more specific, tailored to particular processes, departments, products/services or even during 1 to 1 feedback.
Whatever the aim and purpose of undertaking feedback, there is one underlying precept, feedback must be useful:
“Helpful feedback makes a conscious distinction between the person —who is always valued— and particular acts or specific work —which may be subject to critical comment… No matter how distasteful a person’s acts might be, feedback will only be effectively communicated if the person’s common humanity is respected .”*
[*] Boud, D. (1991). ‘Giving and Receiving Feedback: A Guide to the Use of Peers in Self-Assessment’, (updated from: ‘Implementing Student Self-Assessment’), HERDSA green guide, 5. https://www.uts.edu.au/sites/default/files/Giving-and-Receiving-Feedback.pdf