Encouragement and validation go a long way in building a participant’s confidence, trust and ability to participate in a program. In all that we do, we aim to facilitate engagement, connection and build self-esteem, and a great way to do this is to make the environment a positive and supportive one. The ways we offer feedback and the types of feedback we give can have a big impact on how a participant feels in our programs and about their abilities and success.
Answering a question or sharing an idea can feel like a big risk. Participants may be reluctant to speak – they may be afraid of making a mistake or they worry about what others will think about their choice of words or the way they speak. Add to that someone who might feel self conscious about their abilities, or who has difficulties with understanding or expression, and participation can be hard. As facilitators, we can model ways to participate, we can adjust how we ask questions and we can offer feedback.
Engaged listening is when we pay careful attention to what the participant is saying, whether through words or gestures. Eye contact, nodding or smiling all show that we hear and value the participant’s input. This subtle encouragement can help someone to keep trying even when they are having difficulties. It lets them know that you are interested, and that what they think matters.
Asking questions to further explore an answer, and rephrasing to show understanding builds on that, as does thanking the person for their contribution or making other positive comments to acknowledge the participation. We can also acknowledge contributions by using what one person said as a bridge to ask someone else. “Mary shared that she saw the vase was chipped. Felice, what do you see?”.
During hands-on activities
As participants are working, taking time to observe, comment or ask questions about their activity again shows interest. It allows them to show their enjoyment, or to look for further support. It continues the building of relationships and trust.
Sharing work at the end can again feel like a big risk. Not everyone will want to share, and that is okay. When someone does share, always try to offer positive and authentic feedback. Empty compliments are easy to see through, and offer little value in building trust or confidence. When you see a finished activity, look for a detail or an aspect that you can comment on to make your feedback personal and meaningful. You can compliment their creative approach, their colour choice, the subject they have chosen. No matter what the work, you can always find something to be specific and positive.