Give Me Something I Can Use!

Twelve years of my life were spent teaching English mainly to adult learners. Unexpectedly, loads of other opportunities came with this occupation. One of them was a “Teacher/Trainer/Observer”.

After observing some amazing teaching going on in the classrooms around me, I found it really challenging to give any feedback on what was missing or needed to change. With one teacher in particular, she was better than the teacher-trainers that I’d learnt from. I was a bit star-struck. In a post-observation meeting we went through her lesson plan, steps executed, things I’d witnessed that maybe weren’t so obvious to her – eg. high level of student engagement. Great stuff that she wanted to keep doing [insert your own eye roll here]. At the end of our meeting, this teacher was close to boiling. I saw it [after 30 minutes, I saw it, yep, call me Quick-Nic]. I asked what was up. And this phrase changed my feedback-giving forever:

“Give me something I can use!”

Gulp! I’d given her a big fat nothin’. Zero next-step material. In a feedback session, we’re waiting for our “next step”. We’re waiting for that thing that we can use to take that next step. That’s your job as a “feedback giver”. What is it that this person in whatever context isn’t doing? What needs to change to take them to their next level? What do they need to add? What do they need to stop doing? 

“Give me something I can use!”

Some statements that you want to avoid (I know, seems silly to even write this) are intangible things like:

“Just let yourself go.” “Be yourself.” “Relax!” Oh and the classic: “Don’t be afraid/nervous.” 

It could be as small as: “You gave out handouts one-by-one.” State a fact. Let it land. Explore the effect. If your person is aware of this, they usually agree and add to their “fault” list… hear them briefly, then ask a question. A question that helps them arrive at their answer. A question like “How could you more effectively use that time?” If the “fault” is known, we check together what they’ve tried in the past. Together we arrive at one idea, one small step, that they implement in their next session. The more specific you are with your feedback, the more specific the next steps become.

These kinds of statements are vague and lofty. What are the steps to “let yourself go”? What one thing could my feedback-receiver do to “be themselves”? And “Relax” is a huge word. There are massive industries around it. Do you mean “breathe out first?” See my other article about that science flip.

I will be forever grateful for this specific feedback about feedback:

“Give me something I can use!”

It’s practical, actionable, accountable feedback that helps us all take our next step. One step at a time. One problem/fault correction/missing piece at a time.

What’s your best and worst story of feedback giving and receiving? How has feedback helped you take your next step, not ten steps, just ONE at a time? I really want to learn more about this.

Comment here now. I’d love your feedback.


When in Doubt, Go Social!

From my apartment balcony, the beautiful Italian countryside winks at me – I can’t walk in it. Well I can, 200 metres from my front gate and maximum 30 minutes per day. #StayHome is our reality for now. Earth’s request: “Keep your stinky breath out of my way, for now, please and thank you”. 

The first ten days were the worst for me. So used to my own space that sharing it with my husband 24/7 took a little [ahem] work. Ups, downs, sideways and a weird feeling of just being ‘flat’, nada, niente.

Nerdiness took hold, click-click-click, and I stumbled across a phrase that just clicked. I stored it:

“When in doubt, go social”

The phrase isn’t mine – it belongs to Deb Dana, a psychologist specialising in how we connect (or not). More about Deb later. 

So what’s ‘social’ got to do with anything? Turns out, there is a tendency by many of us to go into our caves when things get a little tough – with thinking like “well, it must be tough for many” or “who cares what I think or feel?” or “I’ve really got nothing to whinge about…” but this kind of thing chips away at us. For some, me included, it becomes a habit to surface only when we feel ‘ok’ or even ‘great’.

How to break this habit? According to Deb Dana:

When in doubt, go SOCIAL!

Oh, ‘social’, meaning hang out with people, right? Ah, well sort of…

Rocket science it is not, however it IS science – neuroscience even. This feeling of ‘flat’ and all the other sensations that go with any kind of [sudden] change, are real and common. In Deb’s podcast (see link below), she suggests reaching out to at least one other trusted person – this will make a huge difference.

“When in doubt, go social” as Deb Dana explains, means not doing it all alone. Reaching out and letting our ‘tribe’ hear us, however we are. “When in doubt, go social”, especially when I don’t feel like connecting with anyone. Sure, I can choose to sit in my own funk. Since practising “going social” and saying how I am over the last few months has made the world of difference to me. I’m even sleeping better. Not every night, but a big improvement for sure. 

Going Social doesn’t mean engaging in long WhatsApp texting convos that give me sore thumbs. Going Social like this kind of text: “Today, I’m kinda like this [insert icon of a poo]” and hit send. My pals usually send back a gif like “I hear ya, girl!” even though they’re not American. It could mean using zoom.com, Skype or houseparty.com to have a virtual tea together (ok, wine time is also great!). We don’t even need to dress up! Across Italy, we have all been clapping at the same time. Cheering for everyone banning together to come out the other side of this time. We are “going social” old school from our balconies.

When in doubt, GO SOCIAL!

Daily I’m experiencing that we are connected to each other. Forging that connection will get us through this period – especially for those who are doing it really tough – in whatever way. For those who have people in hospital, have lost loved ones – let’s up our game on what it is to be human. 

Drop me a line in the comments. I’d LOVE to hear how you are right now.

When in doubt, GO SOCIAL!

Listen to a Podcast by Deb Dana here: https://www.therapistuncensored.com/?s=polyvagal

Read about Polyvagal Theory here: https://psychiatrypodcast.com/psychiatry-psychotherapy-podcast/polyvagal-theory-understanding-emotional-shutdown


Six Good Words that really help

Illness, disaster, the unexpected.

Anything can happen – any time.

When ‘stuff’ goes down, the people it affects get busy. They’re dealing with it. For us looking on, we can feel helpless and say pretty useless things, but we’d love to do something. The questions and offers can go something like this:

If you need anything, I’m here!

Well that’s lovely. I hope you feel better now you’ve said that.

You can count on me!

Great. Now I need to think how to ‘count on’ you…

I’m here for you.

Might be useful but what are you ‘here’ for? What task can you do?

Then there’s my favorite:

Tell me what I can I do!

Again, thanks but I don’t have the space to think about what you can do. I don’t even know what you ‘can’ do.

These four statements mean well, really well. But they’re not specific.

My sister, Danielle Burns, is a writer. She gave me this idea when we were talking about a novel she’s been writing. I asked her how it was going:

Sister: “Ok, I’ve written about 10,000 words this weekend.”

Me: “Wow, that’s great, isn’t it?”

Sister: “Not really, but then I edited. I’m down to 6 words.”

Me – feeling crestfallen for her: “Oh, so not so great then?”

Sister: “Actually yes. I’m really happy. I have SIX GOOD WORDS.”

This stuck.

Then I broke my ankle.

Loads of people rallied around. My husband was exhausted running me from physio, hospital and other doctor-related appointments. And doing all the daily errands that two people usually share and going to work. Offers like the four phrases above came in spades. Except a few:

I’ll do your shopping – send list.

This was one text message. Yes! This is help I really needed. Specific, too.

Another person:

You need social activity – coming now.

I was going a little crazy in our small apartment. Then it hit me. My sister’s words.

Six Good Words, designed by you.

Really supporting or helping someone is much simpler than I thought.

Six Good Words that really help. These are the only six words you need:

Here is what I will do: (count ‘em – yep, six good words!)

Before disaster strikes anyone you care about, get your list ready. What are the useful things you can do, be or organise?

Here are some examples – learnt from my sister who has been living six good words’ for years:

  • Drive: Be available for transport
  • Walk their dog (or anyone else who needs it)
  • Take them out for coffee – if they’re able – help them ‘be’ in the world
  • Do their shopping
  • Set up a blog with news to friends and relatives about your person
  • Set up a CrowdFunding page if they need financial support
  • Play with their children / homework help
  • Cook a healthy dinner – and leave it for them
  • Clean, or organise a cleaner for their house
  • Call them and LISTEN

TIP: List things you are HAPPY to do/be/organise – this makes it a whole lot easier on everyone.

Six GOOD words that really help.

Six GOOD words designed by you.



Six Good Words?

I’m Australian who had no intention of ever leaving my birth place permanently. That is, until 2001 when my world changed forever.

I took myself to small town in central Italy to study Voice. In my third week, I met my husband. It took a few years to work out where we’d live but in April 2004, I returned to Italy and set up my new life with loads of enthusiasm, a little fear of the unknown and zero Italian.

Living and working in Italy since 2004, I’ve come face-to-face with my communication limitations. These limitations were originally linguistic, like you’d expect. I also discovered my communication style needed work. Too many words, in any language, and the message becomes diluted.

Progressing from teaching into training and presenting roles, I needed to become more specific and economic with words. This is what I’ll share with you on this blog. Six good words, more or less, to communicate better.