Giving and Receiving Feedback

Changing mindsets is a gradual process. People's reactions are guided by their readiness and motivation for change. Strong emotions can be triggered by the topic, the process, the timing, or the place and people involved, and can appear at any time.

Your role as a facilitator is to accommodate different viewpoints and reactions. Although the appreciative approach focuses on the things that work well, you should not ignore negative reactions or feedback.

Instead, try to uncover the underlying causes by asking this simple sequence of appreciative questions:

  • What would you like to see more of?
  • How can we make this happen?
  • What are potential obstacles, and how can they be overcome?

Receiving reactions appreciatively

People respond differently to change. Below are some examples of different types of reactions, their possible reasons, and suggestions for how to deal with them.

Quiet person

If a person seems quiet or passive, there is a danger of recognizing the silence as agreement, shared understanding, and consent.

The reasons for why a person is quiet could be that they are shy or insecure. They could be stressed, in disagreement with other people present or resistant to the subject or process. They could also simply be bored or having a bad day. 

Appreciative response:

  • Make eye contact.
  • Engage the person when they contribute.
  • Ask open-ended questions and encourage the person to share their views.
  • Recognize their contribution and relate it to the topic.
  • Start off with one-on-one activities before discussing as a group. For example, ask participants to consider “why is this topic important for me?”
  • During a break, ask how they feel about the process and the topic.

Dominant, talkative person

Avoid trying to control a participant who is talkative or dominant.

People who display dominant behavior may feel that their views are not being heard or have a natural need for attention. They could also be insecure about the topic or process or trying to cover up for being unprepared. Others may talk a lot because they are well-prepared or feel that they are experts on the topic. 

Appreciative response:

  • Make eye contact.
  • Acknowledge the person's contribution and ensure they feel heard.
  • Repeat important points they have made and how they relate to the topic/process.
  • Ask the person if you have understood their views.
  • Draw attention to the change occurring within the room.
  • Remind them about the time limits for the session and the need to cover all areas.
  • Encourage activity from other members as a counter-balance.
  • If side conversations start, ask if their conversation can add value to the entire group or remind the person that the other participants would like their attention.

Overly critical or resistant person

As a facilitator, you must be prepared to deal with criticism and resistance to change.

Some people are skeptical by nature while others are critical because they are upset or feel insecure. They could also be protecting their own interests or feel that their views are not being acknowledged. 

Appreciative response:

  • Try to summarize their position objectively.
  • Paraphrase or repeat their comments. Ask if you have understood their main points correctly, rather than analyzing them or suggesting solutions. This will move the conversation along and prevent conflict.
  • Acknowledge their contributions and address the critique in a positive way: "What would you like to see more of and how can it be accomplished?"
  • Open a group discussion around the topic and encourage the group to find ways of integrating the person's views into the process.
  • Encourage the person to summarize all the different points of view in the session to make them feel responsible for the process.

Stuck on trivial issues

Sometimes people get stuck on issues that are trivial, but that they see as important or unresolved. They may also feel that their views were not heard in previous processes.

Appreciative response:

  • Take a step back and help them identify the underlying needs behind the issue.
  • Ask "Which needs are not being met?" or "What would you like to see more of?"
  • Ask the participants to discuss these needs in small groups and invite each group to present a solution. Write down their suggestions before you move on and let them know that you will keep these for later reflection.