Janel’s Feedback

Normally at Twin Oaks when someone has a feedback called on them there is some concerns which need to be addressed. Typically, the focus person of the feedback has had a behavior which is problematic for other members and/or is in violation of our agreements. The purpose of the feedback is so that members of the community can feel heard and hopefully this behavior changes. The format of the feedback is we sit in a circle and take turns expressing concerns to the focus person who then reflects back, usually in summary and in different words, what they have heard.

Feedbacks feel punitive. The focus person can have an opening statement if they like and an advocate if they desire, but it is not really the place for them to justify their behavior – it is really for them to hear and reflect the thoughts of other members in the community. Usually, feedbacks end with a “next steps” section and sometimes we agree that there is a need for a contract between the focus person and the community. This is an agreement beyond the regular bylaws and community policy to try to rectify the concerns which members have expressed.

In the few couple of years we have had half a dozen feedbacks, I would characterize about half of them as successful, where behavior changed and the focus person was reintegrated into the community. The other half “failed” in that the behavior did not change and/or the person left the community. Certainly, the feedback can not be blamed for all of these failures. And it has oft felt like a dull tool which serves the collective at the cost of the individual who is receiving it.

Janel’s feedback was completely different.

It starts with her having called it on herself. She had critiques for the community, specifically that we did not meet face to face to talk about our feelings and concerns about each other. Many of us believe if we did this type of relationship building communication (as Acorn and many other communities do) we would need fewer punitive feedbacks. Janel was also inviting constructive criticism, which is almost never done. She asked me to speak and speak first if no one else stepped up to, to get the ball rolling and model constructive criticism so others would feel emboldened to do so.

Sapphyre and Janel circa 2012

There is just one problem, there is precious little to criticize, constructively or otherwise, about Janel.

This is what I said. “I appreciate that Janel is trying to reclaim feedabcks as a tool for group communication, though I have some fear the name “feedback” is unsalvageable. Janel asked me for constructive criticism and for me to speak first if no one else jumped in.

I have wracked my brain a bit around identifying constructive criticism for Janel and have had pretty disappointing results. In the end, if I am honest, my suggestions feel more like advice on how to leverage her abilities, rather than a critique of things she could have/should have done better. But I still have several things to say.

Janel and Valerie – May Day/Beltane 2012

So my personal philosophy is that every gift is an obligation. If you are lucky enough to have talent or ability you are bound to use it to for the collective good. You, Janel, have a bunch of talents and thus there are lots of ways you can give back.

Because of these abilities I would encourage you to take more chances. I wrote a blog post about how I thought you were delegating tasks around the communities conference brilliantly. You later told me you did not feel like you had done an especially good job in this and ended up doing more things yourself than you might have liked to. I did not change the blog post, because I liked my story better. And it does point to something you can improve – your delegation to others in projects you are involved in.

Janel and her partner Andros from Acorn

My hope is that you will go to California and seek projects or create new ones and leverage your gifts with the talents of your allies. Specifically, I would encourage you to look less for some specific issue to work on but more the allies who have complimentary skills to yours. Find your clan, the people you can grow with.

One of the things I appreciated about you was working together on your first speaking engagements for the community at McDonogh and Goucher. What was great for me to see was you listened to my various raps about Twin Oaks, then mimic them, then morph them into stories about us that were really yours.

Janel Rockstar w/ Summer, Nina and Trout – at Flossies benefit for stolen instruments 2011

I also wanted to appreciate your work on the chickens. This was nothing like anything you had ever done before and you dove into management and had to take the daring and radical choice to zero the program and start over. Not many new managers would risk that type of decision.

In 2010 you explored communities and luckily came to us. In 2012 I would encourage you to explore again, but not communities this time but projects and activities which can inspire you. Because of your abilities to you get to take on the role I like best, which is being the public face for a bold new idea. You get to represent the philosophy of your group and where you are trying to go. You can recruit, fundraise, entice the media and generally propagandize about what you want to see happen in the world and then help make it happen. For me this is the best job in the world.

yes, you can do it!

I liked your idea of setting up a nest egg to help members who are leaving transition into the mainstream [something several of our sister communities do] this could be augmented by adding an insurance aspect to it to reimburse members for loss or theft.

I can’t be sad about you leaving, as much as I think you are a model communard. You are a shooting star and I am happy we have had you for as long as we have and that I got to work with you on several projects.

love you while we have and let you go gracefully


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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

8 responses to “Janel’s Feedback”

  1. Vermin F. Cockwolf says :

    I applaud Janel for calling a feedback on herself. When I lived there, I advocated for having an annual feedback on each member. Maybe not annually, but certainly at some regular interval. So many members their had caused so many problems but were intimidating enough that no one would call a feedback. Or those who did didn’t receive enough support to make it happen.

    I went to every feedback there was during my four years there. I think there were five of them. Always, they were called on (against, it felt) people who were just unpopular enough to give their detractors the weight to get it scheduled.

    Each time, I left feeling that no one was remotely satisfied. The person who was the target of the feedback felt vilified, their detractors felt as if it wasn’t harsh enough, and their allies felt the whole thing was men-spirited and motivated by personal animosity. I believe each of the members receiving feedback while I was there left the community soon after.

    It also bothered me that many of the people who were somewhat neutral would either nitpick (when we rode together and you didn’t buckle your seat belt, it made me feel unsafe) or not really express their feelings. One person complained that the target of the feedback was late to their shift once and then, afterward, complained to me in private about a whole range of much more serious issues. What was the point of them speaking up at all?

    For me, the whole process was a waste of time and a drain on the members who bothered to be involved with the process (and there was never a very good turnout).

    • paxus says :

      @Vermin

      i have a different experience of feedbacks and i have been to perhaps 20 of them. Many do little and i dont doubt you got a bad spell. THe first one i went to was Hawina’s in which she had been injured working to the point where she could not make quote. One member came in enraged that she was not working and said she should not be accepted as a full member because of it. Hawina informed Jack that it was the health team that told her to stop working and she was following their instructions. When Jack asked why she was not working she said she was in pain. Jack said he was in pain every day and still worked. Then he stormed out of the meeting in a huff.

      And what this showed us quite compellingly was that he was one of the uglier personalities in the commune. Other feedbacks have resulted in members of the community deciding to ask someone to leave who should be rather than go thru the often slow and painful process of formal expulsion.

      And sometimes, just some times there is a real misunderstanding which gets cleared up.

  2. Becca says :

    As a facilitator, I have learned over the years that it is almost never good process to allow a group of people to give “challenging” feedback to an individual. Mostly this comes up in personal growth situations somewhat spontaneously, when someone is resistant to feedback and then a facilitator decides they need to hear from the group (I have never seen this go well). Your situation is a little different, since the individual knows in advance what is going to happen and can somewhat prepare.

    Here are the factors that I think make it a bad idea:

    1) Usually the people who seem to need the most “corrective feedback” are also the ones who are least able to take it, even on a one-on-one situation. Having a group do it tends to be so overwhelming to them that they can experience it as being traumatic. It bears stating: the people who seem most entrenched in their egos seem to be the most fragile when it comes to taking group (or any other) kind of feedback. It’s useless to them, and possibly harmful.

    2) If a person is generally open to feedback, then having a group do it is overkill (like using a chainsaw when a scalpel is what is called for) and can lead to feeling disconnected from the group, out of frustration and/or feeling unseen (usually such people have positive qualities that far outweigh the negative).

    3) The power differential between the group (especially if encouraged by the facilitator, who is supposed to be neutral) and the individual is so large that it could almost be categorized as bullying to allow group “negative” feedback to occur.

    In short, in my experience, it doesn’t work as intended (although perhaps something decent may happen as an unintentional side effect – which is not a justification, just an unpredictable bit of grace); it doesn’t tend to bring people closer; and it is potentially deeply traumatizing for the individual.

    It’s something as a facilitator that I watch out for in group dynamics and will actively intervene to prevent.

  3. Ian Mayes says :

    I’ve personally had two feed-backs at Twin Oaks, one when I was a member there and the other one two years after I dropped my membership.

    The first one wasn’t really that helpful because as Becca says here I was pretty “entrenched in my ego”, so I couldn’t really take in or constructively process what was being said that well.

    The second one was a very positive experience, but mainly because I went into that situation honestly wanting to have a real and direct conversation with people who were hurt by things that I said and did, and at that point I had learned some skills to help me to ground myself and empathically listen to others’ potentially triggering messages.

    I see the feed-back model as being a good first step at having processes available to facilitate processing. New steps can be taken to develop the whole thing further, and what Janel did could possibly inspire more movement to happen in that direction.

  4. paxus says :

    @Anonymous

    Thanks for your comments, tho i feel i must point out some places where my experience is different from yours. Twin Oaks actually has lots of policy and procedure around conflict resolution. Most 3 week visitors are not aware of these, but most members are. Besides our policies and agreements about conflict, we also have both the process team (which can intervene when invited by all parties) or the mental health team (which can be invited if they perceive someones mental health is being stressed or damaged) to aid.

    While it is true we have no juries to decide conflicts, we have lots of other formal and informal systems to help us deal with these situations. Feedbacks (which i also dont especially like) have next steps concluding section, which can include drawing up contracts for changes in behavior or other requests or requirements that the people in the feedback feel are necessary or important.

    There are all manner of checks against mob rule. This was especially frustrating in a recent case where someone was guilty of stalking a couple of members (something we had no precedent for) and many of wanted to throw this person out and the expulsion process was quite slow – because it is designed to protect the rights of the individual against mob decision making.

    But the part of you comment which i must really take exception with is

    “When a co commits policy violations, rape, sexual assault, theft, microwave abuse, process abuse, or the mere act of being annoying, there is little that can be done to resolve co’s missteps except to organize a group of people to make co’s life difficult until co repents or apologizes or leaves. ”

    Actually, there is a whole sexual assault policy which is designed to protect survivors. It has been used only on a couple of occasions, but in both cases it has resulted in the perp being ejected from the community. Your statement (from your three week visit) is in direct contradiction to my 15 years of experience.

    The communities internal justice system is far from perfect, but you make us sound like a place which tolerates sexual assault and rape, which is nonsense in my book. Can you name a single incidence to support your claim?

    As for the egging incident you describe. There is no proof of who committed this incident and the person some think is the most likely suspect has denied this charge. Significantly, this incident has not repeated, from quite some years ago. It was certainly unfortunate and trust damaging, but these types of things are pretty rare. As opposed to theft, sexual assault and other more serious crimes which are far more common in the mainstream culture than at Twin Oaks.

    Paxus in Maastrict
    10 Falling Leaves 2012

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