Do you consider yourself an open person when it comes to hearing about what you can improve?
Funnily enough, most of us do consider ourselves open to feedback. Yet, from external experience, we know that there are quite a few dancers who do not take feedback well. This means that there are some dancers who consider themselves quite open to feedback – but who actually take feedback relatively poorly.
Of course, the qualifier here is that the feedback is given in appropriate situations. For example, floor teaching is not appropriate. Classes, privates, practices, or solicited feedback are appropriate.
There are several common reactions to feedback. Which one do you identify with?
1. When you hear feedback, do you get angry or defensive?
This is what people generally think of when they hear about someone who doesn’t take feedback. While it’s the most obvious example, it’s not actually the most common.
Typically, the people I’ve seen who get angry, defensive or reject advice are people who fall into two camps:
- People who thought they were doing it right, and are angry that they ‘got it wrong‘, or
- People who actually don’t really have an intention to improve – they’re just looking for time with a teacher or feel-good feedback – and this is disrupted when they get actual feedback.
If you’re someone who gets angry and rejects feedback because it’s hard to accept that you were doing something wrong: I get it. It’s frustrating, and it sucks to have been doing something for the last year only to find out that there’s this thing you’ve been doing the WHOLE TIME.
Take a step back. Assuming that you’ve been getting training, you’ve been working on other things. This means that the thing being brought up now may have not been the most immediate concern before.
Further, there are many spontaneous problems that ‘pop up’. Sometimes, we see something in a video and try to emulate it. Frequently, this leads to a brand-new problem that never existed before we saw that thing that looked/felt cool. So, you may not have been doing something wrong the whole time – it might be new!
2. When you hear feedback, do you feel the need to explain ‘why’ you were doing something?
This is a hallmark of people who cannot take feedback very well. Basically, the only way that they can take feedback is by explaining how the thing they were doing wasn’t ‘their fault’. (Some people say “but I thought I WAS doing that already!”)
If you are a person who feels the need to explain why you were doing something else, it’s very often a sign that you are taking feedback as an ‘attack’ on your dancing. It’s a defensive reaction that is very similar to the ‘explained-apology’.
An explained-apology is where a person doesn’t just say ‘sorry’; they need to explain why they did that thing they’re sorry for so that the other person understands that the circumstances weren’t in their control. (Basically, ‘I’m sorry, but understand it wasn’t my fault/intention!’)
This type of attitude feels soothing for the person receiving the feedback/giving the apology. But is also a sign of an unwillingness to truly accept ownership of their mistakes, OR a fear of judgement.
Generally speaking, the person giving feedback doesn’t think you’re a bad person. They don’t think less of you. Therefore, there is no need to explain ‘why’ you were doing the thing wrong. People do stuff wrong – it’s just the way it is. We’re not judging you for it; we’re just trying to help you!
3. When you hear feedback, do you start to fixate on the feedback and feel bad about yourself?
Many people think that internalizing feedback to the point of being psuedo-depressed means you’re really taking the feedback to heart. The problem is, you don’t need the feedback to go to your heart – you need it to go to your brain.
Feedback is never about telling you that you’re doing everything wrong. It’s about finding areas to improve to make your dance even better. When you take feedback as a sign that you suck and that you are still ‘just as bad’ as when you started, you’re undermining your own ability to grow confidently.
You’re also making it really hard for your teacher to give you feedback. When someone takes feedback really personally, teachers feel the need to hide feedback in several pillow-layers. This makes feedback less effective.
Of course, teachers still can be direct… but no teacher wants to be direct when it leads to their student dissolving into a crumpled mess of broken dreams.
4. When you hear feedback, is your gut instinct to reject the advice?
For some people, advice is adversarial. It’s there to be rejected, unless it falls in line with what you currently believe and value. This will not help you improve. Rejection can also include someone saying: “Oh, I do that when I’m social dancing. You just don’t see it right now because I’m not working on it.”
(Well, if you’re not doing it now, it means it’s not internalized. Which means you need a reminder. Skills don’t exist in a vacuum. If you’re forgetting something when applying something else, it means the other thing isn’t as ‘natural’ to you as you think it is. So, yes, you still need to work on it.)
If you only accept new information that works with what you already know, you’re like the scientist who only uses data that supports their hypothesis. Is there a chance you are right? Yes. But, you also run a higher risk of *not learning* or *doing something dangerous*
In dance classes, “I’m not doing it that way” or “I don’t want to do that” are not unknown phrases. They’re also phrases that completely halt your learning. Even if you have been taught conflicting information (and, very often, it’s just two different ways of explaining the same thing), there is no harm in keeping an open mind and trying it. The answer may even exist between the two pieces of information.
If you know you are prone to rejecting feedback that you feel is not directly in line with what you want or believe, pre-lesson reflection can help. Before you go into the class, remind yourself to keep an open mind to trying new things. Remind yourself that trying things to see if they work does not equate throwing everything else out. If you feel yourself beginning to reject advice, stop – and remind yourself to just try it to see.
5. When you receive advice, do you feel frustration or get overwhelmed when applying new concepts – even though you really do want to master them?
This is perfectly normal. While some people are great at taking advice while keeping their cool, many people cannot.
Some of my best feedback-takers are people who get overwhelmed quickly. When they get advice, they’re all for applying it – but they sometimes need to breathe and work through overwhelmed or frustrated feelings. Sometimes, you can even see them preparing their brains to fight the feelings of frustration or panic.
The key here is that they don’t fight the advice – they fight their panic and/or frustration. And, usually, these people win.
If you identify with this, you’re not alone. As long as you take the time you need to work through your feelings, you’re golden. If you need a 2-minute tap-out, ask for it. If you need a minute to think or collect your thoughts, do so. Bathroom breaks (even just to think) can be very useful. This is a healthy way to re-set and apply feedback effectively.
6. When you receive feedback, do you ask a lot of questions?
Questions are great – usually. They’re a valuable tool to learning more – but only if the question is being asked for the express purpose of helping you understand something. Basically: don’t ask questions for the sole purpose of looking ‘smart’ or to ‘stand out’.
If you are in a group class, it’s also important to qualify the questions you are going to ask. Before asking a question in a group, ask yourself:
- Can the teacher answer the question quickly?
- Is the question applicable to everyone else in the class?
For example, if you’re asking how to switch your hand into a comfy position, go for it – other people probably have that problem too. However, if you’re asking anything that takes a lengthy explanation or is not directly related to the current content, ask after class or in a private lesson.
7. When you receive feedback, do you think carefully and determine how to apply it to your dancing, without feeling defeated?
Congratulations! This is the ‘ideal’ way to handle feedback. If you’re the person who listens, applies, and considers advice without getting defensive or defeated, you have the greatest potential to improve your dance through feedback.
If you aren’t this person, there is no reason that you cannot strive to get there. If you work at managing your reactions to feedback and identifying areas that are problematic for you, you can change your attitude.
Anyone can become great at accepting and using feedback. It only takes a realistic assessment of your tendencies, and a willingness to work through your issues with feedback!
Have comments or thoughts? Do you handle feedback in a different way? Share the article, and leave your thoughts in the comments!