Grace in Disagreement: Brené Brown's Ten Guidelines for Engaged Feedback:

Saturday, March 22, 2014 - 11:00pm
Photo by Sam Panthaky

Grace in Disagreement: Brené Brown's Ten Guidelines for Engaged Feedback:

by Mariah Helgeson (@mariahism),  associate producer

In Daring Greatly, social researcher Brené Brown tells a story about an experience she had in graduate school that surprised her. Called to a meeting with a professor, she expected to be intimidated and rebuked. Instead, her teacher was an ally. She pulled up a chair, sat down beside her, and offered Brené Brown adjustments.

This is shaky ground for a lot of us: moments when our work, our ideas, and our actions are open to feedback. It is a place of immense vulnerability. But it's also the place where we are the most open and receptive. If we're nurtured, this is how ideas evolve, broken systems detach, and innovation emerges.

And, on the other side, there is someone making a choice to sit beside or against us. That person carries a huge responsibility.

Nearly every day, we are that person, with that responsibility. Whether we are offering notes to a colleague, telling a child it's bedtime, or extending a contrary opinion when two perspectives are in conflict. Grace in disagreement — saying this could be different and how — is an essential part of the human experience. We evolve through disagreement. Ideas subjected to criticism grow stronger than ideas left unchallenged.

An Indian teacher assists children during their lessons in Ahmedabad.

Credit: Sam Panthaky License: AFP/Getty Images.

It's not disagreement, but graceful disagreement that makes the world go round. And it is rediscovering that grace that Brené Brown articulates so well in her guidelines for engaged feedback:

I know I am ready to give feedback when:

  • I'm ready to sit next to you rather than across from you.
  • I'm willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or sliding it toward you).
  • I'm ready to listen ask questions, and accept that I may not fully understand the issue.
  • I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes.
  • I recognize your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges.
  • I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you.
  • I'm willing to own my part.
  • I can genuinely thank you for your efforts rather than criticize you for your failings.
  • I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity.
  • I can model the vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you.

  • A child reads a book helped by his teacher in Bogota.

    Credit: Mauricio Duenas License: AFP/Getty Images.

    Of course a great many teachers already do this, especially with teachers of young children. The art of guiding and adjusting with compassion is common practice in classrooms around the world.

    It's when we grow older that we sometimes forget that offering and hearing feedback can be a place of mutuality and growth. Disharmony and discomfort can be grounds for transformation once grace and compassion are in the mix. What we need now more than ever is the capacity to both hear and speak honestly together. We need to seek not the hollow shells of half-ideas but the fullness of two thoughts, even when — especially if — they are in conflict. It is these antitheses, as Hegel wrote, that produce the most vibrant synthesis.

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    Mariah Helgeson is an associate producer at On Being. She earned a degree in International Affairs with concentrations in the Middle East and Conflict Resolution from George Washington University. She grew up in Minnesota and was a program associate at the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network. When she’s not submerged in a good book she might be found laughing with her teenage sisters or playing chamber music.

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    Love Brene Brown - her books and online courses have transformed the way I react at work to the "unskilled" communicators I encounter.

    Bravo Mariah. I particularly like the feeling imagery I have in my body of sitting next to someone rather than across from them in the first guideline. It has a quality of "we're in this together. Let's figure it out." Thank you so much for sharing this. Blessings.

    I so appreciate these feedback guidelines! As a mentor, I have created similar guidelines for peer feedback for my students and supervises, based on Parker Palmer's Touchstones. I love when this kind of synchronicity happens. We don't have to WAIT until we are ready for feedback; we can create the ethical framework to talk honestly with each other from a foundation of compassion.

    I know that I could benefit from this sort of practice in my life. I like many other have learned the defensive arts and need to overcome them. In the broader world the ideas of Grace in Disagreements seem to be very applicable to the current status of our national government and think how good it would be if somehow the principles of Grace in Disagreements could be part of the legislative process. Its at this point I feel extremely frustrated and need to work solely on applying the principles to my own life.

    Yet another reason why I love and appreciate OnBeing: It focuses on what we humans have in common, and how we can grow in harmony together on this planet.

    From a textual analysis standpoint, I really appreciate the decision to post photos of people from different cultures. Thank you!

    I loved this list of 10 readinesses...although I think there will never be a human being able to BE that ready! More like a forever wish-list, isn't it? On a daily basis, I'd be relieved to manage just # 3!!

    Catie, I am so glad to see someone else reading this that feels daunted by the guidelines.

    I love this article and the guidelines for giving feedback. I have found the guidelines very effective most of the time. But, I recently had a conflict with a co-worker and it seemed the more I tried these guidelines, the conflict worsen. The person retaliated in very passive aggressive ways. Somehow I felt that role modeling willingness to be vulnerable was taken as weakness. It became an awful situation and I almost left my job over it. Are there certain personalities that these guidelines simply backfire with?

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