Adult 610#5: The Gift of Help


Tis’ the season for gift giving and helping is like a gift. In Adult Learning, we hear with great regularity that “Feedback is a gift.”  How often have I heard a student say that they didn’t wish to read what was written on a feedback sheet?  How often have I struggled to know what to write that would be of help to the presenter? Quite often, unfortunately.

As a public educator, for twenty years I gave parent-teacher conferences, participated in child study teams and assessed student work.  My training occurred sans instruction.  It was a “learn as I go” and “grow as quickly as I could” situation. Towards the latter half of my tenure, I asked students to set goals for their learning which proved to be rather challenging.  “Getting an A” typically tops every student’s list. Evaluation prior to conferences engaged students in assessing their work habits and behaviors.  The feedback collected from students provided the means to begin a discussion with parents. But what can one accomplish in ten brief minutes?

I have been rather silent in terms of discussing the actual consulting project outside of the checklists submitted privately to the professor.  In a public space such as my blog, I feel that it is important to protect the privacy of my client, thus no identifiers.

My consulting team prepared one “mini” feedback meeting to share the results of a survey created for student workers. As there were just 13 responses from October 21-November 16, the feedback was skeletal at best. The client has now postponed our feedback meeting scheduled for December 4 to December 11. We were prepared with a power point and a modified “Blockish” presentation to fit the one-hour period.  After a week of attempting to communicate with our client, we discovered that the staff has determined that they would only be available for half of the time necessary for the presentation.

Schein indicates that as a helper, I need to understand that there are “…hidden dynamics in trying to develop communication processes that will enhance learning processes” (Schein, 1999:125).  So how does an aspiring process consultant practice her skills when the client is unable to secure the time for feedback?

One of the questions that posed during the Adult Educator as Consultant lesson on Monday asked learners to consider the act of conserving honesty when teaching.  I use consulting and teaching interchangeably here, as process consulting is a method of helping that must be learned. I find it difficult to provide truly honest feedback without the basis of a strong relationship. I have almost no relationship with the client. The client does not respond to emails, avoids telephone calls and skillfully provides a rather limited period in which to meet.  My desire to conserve my honest is, in part, a reflection of both my lack of experience and a distaste for conflict. I am careful when considering my words.

Successful mutual face work is a skill that I have spent years perfecting.  At a very young age, I was told that I wore my emotions on my sleeves. The deeply held cultural rules that I was taught as a child, to use my words carefully so as not to hurt others, makes feedback challenging for me.

“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” Dwight Goddard

It is not uncommon for me to be in a confiding communication situation as I have been told that I am easy to talk to and am a holder of confidences. I have experienced the “unwitting communication leakage” described by Schein, during a feedback meeting with a parent. It can be rather unsettling to the equilibrium that is meant to occur between parent and teacher. When I become aware of an individual’s blind spot without their knowledge, it becomes information that may inform the work that I do with a student.

The deliberate feedback that I will hope to provide to our client in the near future should help to inform the staff regarding the work that they do. In hindsight, I wonder if pressing for greater inclusion into the communication process between client and staff would have yielded greater interest and cooperation on the part of the staff.  The project belongs to the client, who passively avoided our offer of help.

The L Consulting team will regroup and continue to prepare the stage for a “Deliberate Feedback” meeting a la Schein.  As Block reminds us to show care for the client in all that we do, we will continue to be patient with our client.

Something to Chew on-

Schein says, “The key to semantic clarity is specificity.”

How can I better anchor feedback in behavior that the giver and the receiver have both observed?

This act may be the key to unlocking misunderstanding!




Schein, E. H. (1999). Process consultation revisited: Building the helping relationship. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.


3 thoughts on “Adult 610#5: The Gift of Help

  1. Throughout the consulting project you have described it has been difficult to truly ascertain what the problem really is. I think it’s because of this confidentiality you bring up here on the blog, but also in class. As I am not part of the consulting team, this seems appropriate, but i’m sure you and your team mate feel as though you are kind of in a “Vegas Rules” bubble (what happens in consulting teams, stays in consulting teams). It seems to me “SEEMS” to me, that you guys weren’t really afforded the opportunity to authentically consult. In a true to life scenario, you would have walked away from the project, using the process consultation skills that both Block and Schein refer to. But, because that was not the end game for the class’ purposes, you had to suck it up and come in as close as you could to an authentic experience.

    In the end though, it was a valuable learning experience for your team ( I hope) because truly ,now you have a better idea of what you would do in a situation similar to this. From the outside looking in, it does really seem like you both did what you could with what you were given to work with.


    1. There were times when I wondered if we said too much. While we never created “ground rules” for our class, I hope that others will not take what was said in class into the outside. In blogs that I have read from years past, I noticed that components of the client’s world were comprised when written in a public space. I am glad that Dr. Hurst practices confidentiality. She is certainly privy to lots of “Vegas” type of material! I twill be interesting to learn how others pulled their project together in a concluding paper.


  2. I know this has been a very difficult process for you, and one that truly underlines the importance of relationship in being able to help anyone at all. When both the relationship is cut off and the process disrupted, it is difficult to remain true to the principles to which you so laudably espouse. Bravo for hanging in there, and your presence and clarity in each step of the process will help you use this experience in the future, for clients more able to use your skills, expertise, and empathy!


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