I have been thinking a lot about feedback lately. I’m talking about in-class feedback, the kind you get in the “heat of battle”, in the midst of a drill, in the thick of things rather than post-class feedback. There are lots of ways feedback is given and it can come from all sides — from instructors as well as fellow students (more and less experienced than yourself). Some of it is useful, in fact most of it is, but some can be unwarranted, unwanted, poorly timed, and just plain annoying.
So, in my humble opinion, what constitutes good feedback? Well, first let me describe what I think is bad feedback because — despite what some people may tell you — I believe it does exist.
Let’s say you’re in class. You and your partner are in a drill which you’ve both just learned. Your partner is approximately the same experience as you or perhaps less so. Moments into the drill, while you are still working out the kinks and concentrating on applying what you just learned, your partner takes it upon themselves to critique you, throwing you off your game, knocking your concentration off, and making you unnecessarily more self-conscious than you care to be at that moment. And they won’t let up. Correction after correction. You can almost sense their frustration with you. What if in this scenario your partner doing the critiquing is wrong about what they’re correcting you for — or just as bad — violating themselves the very thing they’re correcting with you? Not the end of the world; it happens to us all and this kind of thing has happened to me dozens and dozens of times in the past few years. But man can that be irritating and counter-productive. Why do some people insist on giving this mode of feedback? Who knows but maybe it’s simply a desire to be helpful in a body of someone who lacks tact and isn’t actually able to help for lack of skill or experience.
Two things about this scenario I want to touch on: being on the giving end and being on the receiving end of this kind of feedback. If you are the giver, you might consider…um….easing up a bit. I have never seen you in action doing this, of course, but if you are guilty (as we all probably are at some time or another) then you are likely bothering people to some extent or another and if you keep on that path you are going to become less than popular when people pair up for partner drills. If you are on the receiving end of this kind of feedback, my advice is to either grit your teeth and graciously accept the critique or politely inform your partner that you appreciate the feedback but would like the chance to work it out yourself.
Feedback is the breakfast of champions.
Let’s move on to a more positive aspect of feedback. Giving constructive, welcomed, and timely feedback to a partner. This, I feel, is an indispensable part of training. We were recently told in class that although there were two actual instructors roaming the floor to provide corrections, feedback, and encouragement but in some sense the floor was crowded with ‘instructors’ — the students, most of whom had been training 2 – 4 times a week for 2, 3, 4 or more years. Pretty experience folks, in other words. We were told to self-correct because we knew the principles just as much as the instructors! We should observe our own movements and think critically about what we were and weren’t doing correctly, then adjust. Similarly, we as partners should be capable of observing our partner and providing corrective feedback in a tactful, inoffensive, and useful manner. Feedback that is friendly, not condescending, and most of all — helpful in the moment. I love getting this feedback. Some of my fellow students feel ashamed if and when an instructor pauses in their roaming of the floor to provide a correction. Not me. I love getting a bit of constructive correction when I’m messing up (which is pretty dang often). That’s what makes us better.
I think back to times in the past where I am pretty sure I wasn’t following these guidelines and I annoyed my partner. I’d like to think there are no hard feelings as I still partner with them. But as I continue to train I get more of a sense for what kinds of feedback are helpful vs. just boosting my ego. And in that, I think we can all get a little bit better with getting and giving feedback and make the class that much better for everyone training to get better.