Working with feedback

By Limor Shiponi

After another week of practice and telling people his broader version of ‘David’s lament’, including an introduction and a wrap-up, G came back with some useful feedback. I’m posting it with my remarks about how the feedback is useful:

I loved the introduction. It helped built-up context. With every additional phrase, the vision became clear and meaningful. Finally, I realize the circumstances. I would like more of it.

Listeners stand witness to what we tell. If they can’t realize the context and circumstances, we are practically taking away from them an important chunk of their role. Give them what they need so they can stand witness and participate in the storytelling partnership between story, storyteller, and listener. Some need more, some need less, and G will have to adjust as he goes.

Oh, this is great. I’ll tell the person in charge of the annual memorial service she needs to bring you in to tell the lament.

Although G’s performance of the lament is very different from what people here have been accustomed to, they still refer to the already known context. Don’t fight it – tell it where they want you to, and tell it where you want too.

I loved the Hebrew. G gets into the story, it touches him, and therefore it touches me. The introduction is important but we know the story. What it does even more than giving context, is make one realize where the real pain is. It’s not with whom died; it’s with whom stayed behind. G, I saw you suddenly as very theatrical, you’re a poet! However, it is not you. It’s not how you tell your stories.

The last comment was made by one of G’s very close friends; a person who knows him for many years; they’ve been through a lot together. Notice how deeply he could feel what G was feeling. Nevertheless, he was also able to discern and tell G what was wrong, without hesitation. G didn’t like the “theatrical” part in his friend’s comment but that was exactly what he needed to look at. something about his telling of the lament was not authentic enough, yet. He couldn’t see it by himself yet, mainly because of all the work – defragmentation can make you stop listening. I suggested we record his telling so he can hear himself from ‘the outside’. It did the job. G realized what the friend was talking about. From here on it’s just a matter of listening inside as he practices more. “Am I truly there? Can I see and feel what I’m talking about? I’m I relating to the story and responding to it or am I just telling the text?”

The more honest the feedback the greater service it is to the storyteller. Being ‘nice’ is nice but if you have more to say – don’t leave it out of the conversation. Many people are afraid to ‘offend’, which is understandable; not telling the truth about what YOU feel in front of a peer’s telling – if they asked for feedback – isn’t very helpful. Above that – many storytellers make it impossible to tell them something.

My advice: always ask the person before you give feedback. If they approve, tell them what you see, what you feel and think, be very specific vs. speaking ‘in general’. What you don’t want to tell them is “if I would tell that story, I’d…” don’t tell them what to do; just what the telling made you see/feel/think.

The truth is – most storytellers know very well that something is wrong or great when it is. If they ask for feedback and you have some you’re not telling them about, a little elephant will grow in between you.

For reference, it might interest you to look at a list of components important for a storyteller. The list was accumulated via a survey I’ve conducted during 2004 among a group of experiences storytellers. Through the same survey, I found out something important about feedback too: storytellers refer to self-feedback as the most valuable. Second is feedback from family members, close friends, and peers they trust for honesty concerning this matter.

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