In the hot seat

The woman felt alone in the room even though she wasn’t.  There was someone sitting right across from her, waiting.  It was her interrogator.  The woman took a deep breath and looked up, meeting the interrogator’s eyes.

“How do you think you did?” asked the interrogator.

The woman forced herself to keep eye contact as her body began to sink back into her chair.  She took a quick breath and then began to list all her faults, foibles and recent transgressions.  The interrogator’s face was grim.  One eyebrow started to rise slowly.

When the woman finished her monologue, she looked down at her clasped hands and waited.  Her breathing was shallow.  She glanced up.  The interrogator’s expression hadn’t changed.  After a moment, the interrogator tilted his head back so he was looking down his nose at the woman.  He took a long deep breath, shifted in his chair and then began.  First he added to the list of the woman’s transgressions and then he analyzed the effect that these transgressions had had on the greater society.  Occasionally he would pause and demand the woman offer more in-depth explanations for her actions.

It really didn’t matter what explanations the woman gave.  The damage had already been done and this was an exercise in blame and guilt.  Her behavior would have to change.  What steps was she taking to change this offensive behavior?

Is this a scene from Communist China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s when self-criticism and public humiliation was the expected norm?  Nope – this is a 21st century feedback session and feedback is a big part of the yoga scene.

I have no problem with feedback, in fact I have been receiving feedback my entire life.  The dance teachers correct you, the rehearsal directors yell at you, the choreographers have their opinion, the directors hire or fire you and the critics throw in their two cents publicly.  Having said that, I’m very particular about how I act on the feedback that I receive.

If you are someone that I respect, or I admire your approach – then I will work hard to incorporate your feedback into my teaching.  But if you are one of those people whose classes I tend to avoid, or whose style is on the opposite side of the teaching spectrum, there’s a good chance I won’t act on your feedback.  I will listen to it and accept that it gives me another view to the whole picture but I probably won’t act on it.  No one can be everything to everyone.  All I can do is my best and teach from a place that feels authentic to me.

I do think that probably the worst way to start a feedback session is to ask the person, “So, how do you think you did?”  Other than it’s not very original, I am sure that many people, like myself can slam themselves down ten times better than anyone else could and how is debasing one’s own performance going to help with self-confidence?  Also going over the mistakes ad nauseum isn’t helpful.  We’re trying to create competent teachers who have a love of learning, not a group of people who are afraid to make a mistake.  The fear of making a mistake was a big part of my early life, where messing up could get you fired.  I don’t want to go down that path again and I don’t want anyone around to have to go down that path.

It might be more helpful if feedback sessions were broken into two parts.  Part one being the actual feedback.  Nothing more.  The second part should be a few days later when the person receiving the feedback has had the time (and privacy) to digest what was given.  Sometimes a feedback session can feel like an assault.  You get hit with something that you didn’t see coming and you just don’t know how to react.  Well – react beyond confusion.  One of my initial yoga feedback sessions went like this: “Your voice was very monotone but now that I’m talking to you, I realize that’s the way you speak”.  I honestly didn’t know how to respond to that one and we ended up staring each other for about a minute while I searched my brain for something to say.

Feedback needs to be taken with a grain of salt and that includes good feedback. Praise feels great but the day you start believing it to be the only assessment you need, you’re in trouble.  Just remember that not everyone will love everything that you do.   Use the feedback that feels authentic to you, be wary of the feedback that seems a bit whacky and realize that your growth is just that – your own growth.

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