Renee Bellis, Feedback Labs | May 9th, 2022
I first became interested in giving and receiving interpersonal feedback in 2018 when I joined an intentional community called Maitri House. We are a 12 person (and two cats) community that co-owns the home we live in. We make collective decisions about our home and our lives together through consensus. A main value of the community is creating a culture where we communicate our needs and feelings more than generally happens in the wider world and can navigate the inevitable conflicts well. The paradox of good conflict is you have to trust the person you are in conflict with to also want to communicate about the issue and resolve it in a way that works for both of you. So how do you build communication trust for unavoidable future conflicts? You intentionally practice giving feedback. From practicing interpersonal feedback at home, I have learned that you must be brave to give and receive feedback, but it is so worth it because it clears the air and makes people feel seen for their differences and connected over shared goals. More recently, as a Tools and Training Intern at Feedback Labs, I have seen how organizations can apply these same principles to use the feedback loop to listen to their constituents better and form strong, trusting relationships.
Routine Community Feedback Practices
The community has a few structured and unstructured processes for giving feedback. When someone new joins the community they go through three check-ins within the first 9 months. These check-ins are a way for the new member to voice any concerns with values or processes that the community has and for current members to share their joys and concerns with living with this new person. The three check-ins increase in structure with the first being fairly casual to the third having specific questions the new member is asked to answer. The last step of each check-in is for each other member of the community to express appreciation for the new member. This helps everyone keep in mind that while there might be something challenging in the relationship between two people, they can both recognize qualities about the other that they appreciate.
Housemates who have lived in the community for more than a year go through an annual clearnesses process, which the community adapted from a Quaker tradition called a clearness committee. The variety of clearness we use has two steps. First, the focus person meets with each other housemate, and they each answer the following questions.
- What excitements do I have about being in this community with you?
- What concerns or challenges do I have with being in this community with you?
- Are there any challenges in our relationship?
- Would we like to work on those? If so, what might we do and what kind of support could we ask for from others?
- I would like to ask for/offer this kind of support from/for you…
The second step is a group clearness where the focus member gets asked what needs are and are not getting met in living in the community as well as how the person evaluates their interpersonal relationship with others. The member is also asked about their vision for Maitri and what they see as their contribution to the life of the community. Each housemate shares any concerns that come up during the individual clearnesses and the state of resolution or not. As with new member check-ins, the clearness is closed by each member offering an appreciation of the focus member.
Being Open to Impromptu Feedback
The community also has less structured and more frequent opportunities to give each other feedback. We have agenda meetings twice a month where we talk about everything from reminding people to stack dishes the ‘right’ way in the dishwasher to deciding to undertake a major home construction project. Agenda meetings have a set opening and closing process that includes time for a clearinghouse. The purpose of the clearinghouse is to bring up difficult things with the community or with a specific person. There is a clearinghouse facilitator who helps the people involved feel heard about what issues they have around the topic and hopefully gets support from the group to come to a resolution or create a plan to come to a resolution. The clearinghouse is an opportunity on a bi-monthly basis to bring up challenging feedback with the community or an individual and have the support of the community to resolve the issue.
The least structured way that the community supports each other in giving and receiving feedback is what I like to call emotional fire fighting. The members of Maitri House want to build an internal community culture where people move toward communication even when it is really challenging and heated. We want each housemate to feel like they have the skills and confidence to step up if two other people are having a conflict to offer support to help both people communicate their needs and feelings. The skills to support people in conflict and the confidence to offer that support are learned behaviors and take practice to do it well. Like a firefighter trained to be confident moving toward a fire, the community aspires to help each member feel better about moving forwards in emotionally difficult situations both in their own lives and in support of others.
Feedback is easier to give and receive when you trust the other person. Humans are great at remembering where there is danger and avoiding it. It is how our ancestors learned to not eat poisonous berries. If you have had a negative experience giving or receiving feedback, you are likely to avoid doing so in the future. When you trust the other person wants to communicate about the issue and work with you to resolve it, it becomes easier to bring up challenging feedback because you know the other person is as committed as you to make your relationship go better for both of you. Trust around feedback has to be built and reinforced throughout a relationship and using structured and unstructured practices helps ensure the trust is maintained.
I have learned that trusting people takes a bit of bravery. You have to be brave to ask for feedback and trust that the person giving you feedback is doing it out of goodwill. Living in an intentional community has taught me that being brave with giving and receiving feedback is highly rewarded when that feedback helps you have strong relationships. I hope you are inspired to bravely ask for feedback and build trust with the people around you, whether that is at home, at work, or in the communities you work with and serve.
Renee Bellis was the Tools and Training Intern at Feedback Labs. She is responsible for helping training run smoothly and working on long-term projects related to training delivery.
Prior to Feedback Labs, Renee was the Membership Associate at the Society for Research in Child Development. She has worked in administration and office management for nonprofits for the last five years and has enjoyed building institutional memory by writing guides for office procedures. Renee was a Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Zambia.
Renee is pursuing a Master’s in Non-Governmental Organizational Management at Johns Hopkins University. She received a BA in Political Science from Hiram College in Ohio.