Mentoring an Untrained Teacher

In a recent conversation about mentoring with my long-time colleague Nettie Fabrie from Sound Circle Center who is the Pedagogical Dean of the Seattle Waldorf School, I posed a question about mentoring a new and untrained teacher and she shared with me an important thought about mentoring new teachers in general.

She asked me, “Has this teacher gone through a teacher training or preparation course?  If not then one needs to take a different route in mentoring this teacher. One needs to develop a support program for the teacher that looks more like training than mentoring.”

“You see”, she said, “you can certainly help the teacher in their teaching, but without the foundations that are provided in a good Waldorf teacher preparation program most of what an individual will absorb will be just techniques. That will serve them for a little while. But when the children meet difficulties the inexperienced teacher will have a hard time discerning what the proper response would be and that is when we often see crises and conflicts developing between the teacher, students and parents alike.”

There are four important things that one develops in a teacher preparation course that are essential to their success in a school:

  1. A refined inner practice that is active and aligned with the stream of anthroposophy.
  2. A greater capacity for social interaction, group work and community and organizational development.
  3. A deeper understanding of the Waldorf curriculum, human development, teaching and student support.
  4. An active and diverse artistic life.

These are not things that a teacher can or will easily develop through online courses, weekend seminars or one-week summer intensives. These training opportunities often work on one or another of the areas, but not all. To develop these capacities above, it ia most helpful to have a guide and a group to work with over time.

When a school hires an untrained teacher, it is faced with the question of how to provide the needed support to the teacher in their inner, social, artistic and pedagogical work. Some of this can be supported through the ongoing work and study of the faculty. Some of this can be supported by requiring the teacher to enter into a training program. This requirement, however, often creates challenges as the carrying of a class and training at the same time is more than many people can manage. Without proper training the teacher often falls behind to the point of not serving the school well and the school compromises the quality of their educational offering. There are things a school can do to avoid this pitfall.

  • Make a commitment to hiring only trained teachers
  • If an untrained teacher is hired, commit to supporting him or her by providing funding and/or giving them a lighter teaching load so they may enter a training program immediately
  • Set up a collegial support system so that they can have the coaching needed from an experienced teacher as they complete their training. The support framework is best when it involves an overall plan for professional development and collegial support in the areas most needed – parent work, classroom management, lesson planning, artistic development.
  • If you don’t have a mentoring program established, then it may be wise to find a professional mentor outside the school who can help.

For more ideas about how to transition a new teacher into the school, see the Transition Handbook developed by the Teacher Education Network of AWSNA and other resources listed on this site.

Michael Soule 12/2014

School Mentoring Program Assessment Form, Sound Circle Mentoring Seminar 2008

School Mentoring Program Assessment Form (see pdf chart here)

This form is intended to help schools develop their capacity for assessing the mentorship program in their school and identify strengths and areas where improvements are needed. This form is a tool in development.

1. The Mentoring Program + - +/- Successes & Areas Needing Improvement
a. The mentoring program at the school is one part of a complete professional development plan, which includes mentorship, peer mentorship and evaluation.

b. The program provides mentoring for new teachers.

c. The program provides mentoring for all teachers, appropriate to their level of experience.

d. The teachers, board and administration recognize the need for and support the program.

e. The mentoring program is supported financially.

f. The mentoring program is supported in the school calendar and policies.

g. Professional development support is available to help each teacher gain skills they need.

h. The school identifies when the mentoring needs exceed the capacity and experience of the faculty and seeks outside support for mentorship.

i. The program covers all the areas of a teacher’s work, including inner work, parent relations, colleagueship, administrative tasks and work in the classroom.

j. It is clear who oversees and is responsible for the program.

k. Every faculty member is aware of the assessment process and results.

l. The mentoring program assessment results in an action plan that is implemented.

2. Program Orientation
+ - +/- Successes & Areas Needing Improvement
a. A handbook outlines the goals, processes, expectations, roles and responsibilities in the program. The Handbook includes the document “Criteria for a Healthy Classroom”.

b. All new teachers are oriented to the program and handbook.

3. Mentor Qualifications and Training
+ - +/- Successes & Areas Needing Improvement
a. The mentor has sufficient teaching experience in order to guide teachers.

b. Mentors are committed to the success of their teachers.

c. The mentor has some training and experience with mentoring.

d. Mentors have skills in the areas where the teacher needs help.

e. Mentors are successful in their own teaching.

f. The mentor is grounded in an Anthroposophical understanding of child development and Waldorf education.

g. Mentors have completed full teacher training in a Waldorf affiliated institute.

4. Program Implementation
+ - +/- Successes & Areas Needing Improvement
a. Mentors are assigned through a process that matches needs and talents.

b. Mentorship responsibilities are taken into account when non-teaching tasks are distributed among faculty.

c. Time and space is provided in the weekly schedule for classroom visits and mentoring meetings.

d. Written expectations of mentors and teachers are clear.

e. Roles for mentor and teacher are clear and have been agreed to by both.

f. Confidentiality is expected and practiced.

5. Program Oversight and Review
+ - +/- Successes & Areas Needing Improvement
a. The program is reviewed annually – with input from both mentor and teacher.

b. The work of the mentor is reviewed annually. This review includes a self-assessment and reflections from the teacher being mentored.

c. The group responsible for the program has set up means of checking in with mentors and teachers.

e. The process is documented – mentor and teacher keep records of meetings and take notes of their conversations and it is clear what happens to the documentation.

f. The process for dealing with situations where things do not go well is clearly laid out, supported and practiced.

g. There is a clear process for what to do when there are concerns by either.

h. Mentors in a school meet occasionally support and learn from each other.

6. Teacher Evaluation
+ - +/- Successes & Areas Needing Improvement
a. The school has an evaluation process in place separate from the mentoring program.

b. The distinctions between mentorship and evaluation are clear to all teachers.

c. Mentors do not evaluate teachers in their own school.

d. Results of any evaluation are shared with teacher and mentor.

e. There is a process and timeline for follow-up on evaluations.

Action Plan Date

Action Due by Person(s) responsible

Assessment form completed by: Date:

For a PDF of this assessment form as a chart, click here.
Copyright: Sound Circle Center, 2008

Mentoring and Evaluating Terms: Definitions and Clarifications, D Gerwin, M Soule AWSNA

The following descriptions attempt to clarify the uses of the terms relating to mentors and evaluators of individual teachers, as well as terms referring to the mentoring and evaluation of schools as a whole.



In-house Mentor – appointed by the school

In-house mentors are experienced teachers assigned by their schools to support a colleague (often a new teacher) in the improvement of his or her teaching. It is necessary for mentors to visit regularly to observe the students and teacher in the classroom, to meet with the teacher regularly, be available for questions and provide support to the teacher. These relationships are confidential and non-evaluative.

Outside Mentor – appointed by the school

Outside mentors are experienced teachers assigned by a school to visit one or more of its teachers when no suitable or appropriate mentor is available within the school. The relationship is the same as with in-house mentors.


Peer Support (also called “buddy” or “talking partner”) – chosen by the teacher

A peer support position usually is an experienced colleague in the same school as the teacher seeking help. He or she is a person with whom the teacher can speak in confidence as a way of gaining perspective and insight and share materials.


School Mentor – appointed by the school

This term generally refers to those who advise and provide guidance and oversee the mentoring. If they are from outside the school, their periodic visits may include observing individual teachers and offering suggestions in follow-up.


School Mentoring Team – appointed by AWSNA’s regional delegates in the school’s region

            As a “developing member” of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) the regional delegates designates a team of 2-3 experienced teachers, usually from the delegates group and member schools, that provides ongoing support to the school as it progresses towards candidacy. Members of this team may make visits to the developing school to observe and assess progress, and provide support and resources to help the school in its development. These visits are usually focused more on the overall development of the school and while they are not intended to include individual pedagogical mentoring or evaluation to teachers, they may include drop-in visits to classes and conversations with individual teachers.



Teacher Evaluator – appointed by the school

Evaluators are experienced teachers invited into a school to observe one or more teachers as part of the school’s periodic review program. Evaluators write reports based on their visits, identifying strengths and areas for growth. Usually evaluators discuss their findings with the teachers they have evaluated before submitting their report to the school.


School Evaluators – appointed by the school

From time to time a school may opt to invite one or more colleagues to visit the school to offer outside perspectives. These school evaluators may come in response to a crisis or in the context of a chronic or systemic problem.


School Evaluation Team – appointed by AWSNA

            As a “candidacy member” of AWSNA, a school will be visited by a team of evaluators whose task it is to determine whether the school is moving successfully towards full membership in the Association. These visits are largely focused on the overall development of the school but will include drop-in visits to classes and possibly conversations with individual teachers.

Schools undergoing AWSNA accreditation receive similar visiting teams.

AWSNA member schools commit to periodic self-study and peer review, which may include a site visit by an AWSNA-appointed team. (See AWSNA membership guidelines for details.)


- - -   Other Forms of Mentoring and Teachers Support   - - -

Supervising Teacher – designated by a teacher education institute

A supervising teacher is a colleague working in a school who agrees to accept a student teacher into his or her classroom as part of an internship of observation and practice teaching. This teacher supervises the work of the student teacher using guidelines set by the student’s teacher education institute. Often this colleague is designated as “cooperating teacher” or “on-site teacher”.


Internship/Practicum Supervisor – designated by a teacher education institute

Students enrolled in a Waldorf teacher education program generally undertake an internship or practicum in a Waldorf school as part of their training. In this context a faculty member of the program may visit the school to observe the student who is interning in the school under the guidance of a supervising teacher (see above)


Pedagogical Mentorship Network (formerly Pedagogical Advisors Colloquium)

This group of teachers has been working together for several years to deepen its understanding of supportive mentoring practices and the overall role of mentoring in schools. The purpose of this group is not to train or prepare mentors but to build a body of experience and resources that can be helpful to schools in developing their mentoring programs. Participants in the colloquium have taken active roles in offering regional mentoring seminars based on the experience of the colloquium.


August 2006



More Mentoring Resources

More Resources for Mentoring in Waldorf Schools

In 2005, after participating in a national mentoring colloquium sponsored by AWSNA, Nettie Fabrie and Michael Soule initiated a symposium for experienced teachers in Waldorf schools in the NW. The training was three years long (six weekend sessions) and involved 25 experienced teacher from 10 NW schools. After completing two three-year seminars with different participants, Nettie, Holly Koteen and Michael gathered their experience into a collection of resources to help teachers become more effective in school mentors.    Here are a few of the resources we found helpful. (Just click on the title to find the resource in our library.)

Mentoring in Waldorf Early Childhood Education, a compilation of essays published by WECAN. Edited by Nancy Foster

Compiled from the work of the WECAN Mentoring Task force, this book contains chapters on the essentials of Waldorf early childhood work, the pats of self education and adult learning, the "nuts and bolts" of mentoring, and the nature of a fruitful mentoring conversation. Contents: Self-Education as the Basis for the Art of Mentoring • The Role of Mentoring Early Childhood Teachers and Caregivers: Context and Purpose • Laying the Basis for the Mentoring Visit • The Essentials of Waldorf Early Childhood Education • The Mentoring Observation: What Do We Look For? • The Art of Fruitful Conversation • Pearls of Wisdom: The Role of Advice in Mentoring • Accountability: Written Records • Meeting at the Eye of the Needle: Mentoring on the Path of Adult Learning

Working Together: An Introduction to Pedagogical Mentoring with articles by Virginia Flynn, Ann Mathews, Else Gottkins, AWSNA

Recommendations from the findings of the AWSNA Pedagogical Advisors' Colloquium. Included are: Examples of Mentoring Practice in the Elementary Grades; Working Together Towards Excellence in Waldorf Education; Effective Mentoring; Examples of Mentoring Styles among other articles.

 Professional Review and Evaluation In Waldorf Early Childhood Education by Holly Koteen with a contribution by Patricia Rubano, published by WECAN.

A companion volume to Mentoring in Waldorf Early Childhood Education, full of time-tested advice and encouragement for schools wishing to implement or strengthen their professional evaluation process. Chapters include Why Review? Cultivating Review, The Self-Evaluation, The Role of the Evaluator, The Role of the Institution, and Obstacles and Hindrances. Appendixes include Susan Howard’s “The Essentials of Waldorf Early Childhood Education”

Effective Practices Module

A survey of effective practices in Waldorf schools including sections on:

Mentoring: an Introduction        1. The Mentoring Program           2. Mentoring Qualifications and Scheduling          3. Oversight and Review of the Mentoring Program                  4. Evaluations and Mentoring     5. Personal Development and Enrichment

These modules are available as resources on this site and through AWSNA.

If work in an AWSNA affiliated school you can get a copy of this study from their website Why Waldorf Works under school resources using the password 4AWSNA. These modules are intended for people only in AWSNA affiliated schools.

Navigating the Transition: A Handbook for Schools Welcoming a New Teacher from A Teacher Education Institute

This handbook was developed by the Teacher Education Network of AWSNA to help schools integrate and support new teachers in cooperation with the training program from which they graduated. The section on Mentoring is most helpful here. This handbook is available here in our resource section in short and long form. The handbook includes: Introduction

  1. The Teacher Education Program – What your new teacher has studied
  2. The Teacher Education Program – Teaching Practicum
  3. Orienting a new teacher to your school policies and practices
  4. Supporting a new teacher in the summer before they take up a class
  5. Mentoring a new teacher
  6. Supporting a new teacher with his or her class parents
  7. Collegial expectations of a new teacher
  8. Evaluating a new teacher
  9. Continuing Education for a new teacher
  10. Individual suggestions for your new teacher


Healthy Conversation, Communication and Agreements

We just finished our second week of school. It is a mystery that even if everything is the same as the year before, the new year unfolds differently, usually in unexpected ways. It is an equal mystery that when one new person enters the organization or school, the whole school is changed. We all know this if we have children. When a child enters our life, our life is changed. It is not a matter of fitting the child in to our existing life, or the new person into the community or organization but of accommodating the way that our life has changed as a result of the presence of a child or new person in it.

During the first week of school it was clear how much joy people experienced in reconnecting with each other. There was also a palpable sense of anticipation around what was going to be new and unique to the coming year.

The presence of newness requires us to change, to be more conscious and to take renewed interest in the ways we interact in the community. A new year, or a new beginning is an opportunity to be present and to take a renewed interest in those around us, to further develop our skills at dialog and communication and to renew our agreements.

This month’s newsletter focuses on these three essential aspects of the social life in an organization: practicing healthy communication, forming and following agreements and meeting one another with interest.

The Art of Community Building by Marjorie Spock was written in 1983 as a guide to conversation and community building. Marjorie Spock was a eurythmist, Waldorf teacher, biodynamic farmer, writer and environmentalist who was a devoted student of Rudolf Steiner’s social ideas.

Personal Readiness for Communication, from Building Regenerative Communities, by Mary Christenson and Marianne Fieber is a checklist that provides a tool to assess one’s listening and communication skills in our preparation to be more effective in our group or organization.

 The Art of the Perfect Apology is taken from the website and is a wonderful exploration of the role and practice of the apology in work, organization and professional settings. It provides a simple guide to a somewhat overlooked aspect of our work together. It goes along closely with the four basics of social grace: assume positive intent, ask questions before forming judgments, apologize honestly when you make a mistake and forgive others when they do.

The Art of Feedback is a short description by the Center for Creative Leadership of an approach to giving healthy, meaningful, supportive, judgment free feedback that leaves you and the one you are giving feedback to free and safe. It is a simple and widely used approach that is effective and that builds strength is everyone involved.

 -Michael Soule

Group Moral Artistry, The Art of Goethean Conversation

Group Moral Artistry II
by Marjorie Spock


Conversing, as Goethe conceived it, is the art of arts. The very place in his works where the subject finds mention lets us glimpse its singular rank in his esteem. This is in a key scene of his fairy tale, The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. There, the four kings enthroned in the subterranean mystery temple are roused to the dawning of a new Age of Man when the serpent, made luminous by the gold she had swallowed, penetrates with her light into their dark sanctuary, and the following dialogue takes place:

“Whence came you hither?” asked the golden king.

“Out of the clefts where gold dwells,” replied the serpent.

“What is more glorious than gold?”


“What is more quickening than Light?”


Unless one understands what Goethe meant one can feel disappointed at the serpent's answer, which scarcely seems the revelation one expected. For is conversation as we know it in the Twentieth Century really more glorious than gold, more quickening than light? Hardly! We attach the term to every casual exchange, to the most idle, inconsequential chit-chat. Surely, we feel, the term must have come down in the world since Goethe's day, suffering severest diminution in its slide.

That this is indeed the case becomes apparent when we recall the salons of earlier centuries where great minds came together for significant talk. These occasions were of a wholly different order from our social happenings. They were disciplined, where ours are chaotic, built around a common purpose, mutually enriching rather than depleting. It is impossible to picture the participants in a salon all talking at once, babbling away on as many subjects as there were pairs of conversationalists present. No! The star of a theme hung over the assemblage as over a pool studded with crystals, and the responsively scintillating crystal intellects took turns voicing the reflections awakened in them.

But Goethean conversations differ at least as much again from those of the salon as did the salon from today's cocktail party. Their purpose is to call forth a fullness of spiritual life, not to stage displays of intellectual fireworks. They have nothing in common with the salon's formal play of light-points sparkling in cold starlit glitter. Instead, they strive to enter the sun-warm realm of living thoughts where a thinker uses all himself as a tool of knowledge, where – in the manner of his thinking – he takes part as a creative spirit in the ongoing creative process of the cosmos.

But this is to say that a true Goethean conversation takes place across the threshold, in the etheric world, where thoughts are intuitions (cf. Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom), -- that it breaks through into the realm of First Causes.

Lesser types of interchange never do this; they remain mere mentalizing, speculation, argument, a recounting of experience, an offering of opinion, a reporting. At their best they are nothing more than disciplined discussion, at their worst a mindless associative rambling.

While most of these lesser forms of exchange can be made to serve useful purposes, the fact that they remain on this side of the threshold condemns them to spiritual barrenness; they leave earth and those who take part in them unfulfilled. They cannot overcome the isolation with which every man born since Adam feels afflicted.

But true conversations have that power. As the participants strive to enter the world of living thought together, each attunes his intuitive perception to the theme. And he does so in the special atmosphere engendered by approaching the threshold of the spiritual world: a mood of supernaturally attentive listening, of the most receptive openness to the life of thought into which he and his companions are now entering. In such an attitude the consciousness of all who share it shapes itself into a single chalice to contain that life. And partaking of that divine nutriment they partake also of communion, of fellowship; they live the Grail experience of modern man.


We have found Goethe depicting conversation as the art of arts. If it is indeed such, and we aspire to it, what does its practice require of us? Surely no amount of inspired groping will suffice; techniques of a very special order must be cultivated.

Perhaps the first pre-requisite is to be aware that the spiritual world beyond the threshold wishes every bit as keenly to be known to us as we wish to know it. It does not have to be taken by assault; it comes gladly to meet us, much as a wise and loving teacher responds to the warmth of a student's interest. And no one genuinely eager to approach such a teacher with the proper reverence fails to elicit his responses. The spiritual world is no less eager to meet our interest. We recall Christ’s assurance of this: “Seek, and ye shall find. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”

The seeker's attitude thus proves a magically evoking wand that, like the rod of Moses, unlocks a flow of spiritual life. One must know this to be a fact, both in one's own and others' cases. Then the group’s consciousness becomes indeed a common vessel in which to receive such illumination as the world beyond the threshold may, on each given occasion, find it suitable to offer.

But one cannot step with a single stride from ordinary thought and chatter into Goethean conversation. The latter requires the most loving preparation. Thoughts must first be conceived like children, and then brooded out in the spirits of the thinkers. To this end the theme of a meeting is set in advance. Each member of the group lives with it as a developing concern in his meditation. As the day of foregathering draws near he begins to anticipate coming together as a festival of light which, if he and his fellows have done their work well, will lead to their illumination by the spiritual world.

What, specifically, is meant by work here? Certainly not the production of any finished concepts, the amassing of quotes from authoritative sources, the getting up of a resume of reading done. Thinking and study engaged in prior to a meeting rather serve the purpose of rousing the soul to maximum activity so that it may come into the presence of the spirit all perception. Work of this sort is a warming up, a brightening of consciousness to render the soul a dwelling place hospitable to insight. One must be willing to sacrifice previous thinking, as one does in the second stage of meditation, in order to clear the scene for fresh illumination.

The principle here is the same as that advanced by Rudolf Steiner when he advised teachers to prepare their lessons painstakingly and then be ready to sacrifice the prepared plan at the dictate of circumstances which may point to an entirely fresh approach to their material If one is well prepared, he said, one will find the inspiration needed. Indeed, the principle is common to all esoteric striving. Invite the spirit by becoming spiritually active, and then hold yourself open to its visitation.

Those who come to the meeting place thus prepared will not bring the street in with them in the form of all sorts of distracting chatter. One does not, after all, approach the threshold in an ordinary mood; and where an approach is prepared, the scene in which the encounter takes place becomes a mystery temple setting. What is spoken there should harmonize with a temple atmosphere. Conventional courtesies to the person in the next chair, comments on the weather, the transacting of a bit of business, are all completely out of tune and keeping.

To abstain from chatter means learning to live without any sense of discomfort in poised quiet. But then, a very special regard for and tolerance of silence is a sine qua non of esoteric life, under which heading conversations too belong. This means an about-face from accustomed ways. In ordinary social intercourse words must flow, or there is no proof of relating; silences signal breakdowns in communication. But as one grows in awareness of the threshold, words for words' sake come to seem disturbers of the peace. Unnecessary utterance intrudes upon and destroys the concentrated inner quiet that serves as a matrix for the unfolding life of intuition.

Conversations, then, rest as much on being able to preserve silence as on speaking. And when it comes to the latter, one can find no better guide to the ideal than is offered in another piece of Goethean insight. The poet saw necessity as art's criterion (“Here is necessity; here is art.”). And one can sharpen one's sense of the necessary to the point where a conversation develops like a living organism, every part essential and in balance, each contributor taking pains to lift and hold himself above the level of unshaped outpourings. To achieve true conversations one must, in short, build with the material of intuition. And to reach this height everything of a personal, sentient nature must be sacrificed. Only then can a conversation find its way to necessity.

When it does so, it becomes a conversation with the spiritual world as well as with one's fellow earthlings.


Though groups vary greatly, a good deal of practice is usually needed to grow into a capacity for Goethean converse. Most individuals today are so habituated to discussion that they can hardly conceive higher levels of exchange. We are conditioned to earth; the etheric realm has become a stranger to us.

Several means exist to school oneself in etheric thinking. A prime one is, of course, meditation as Anthroposophy teaches it. Another is an ever repeated study of Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom, carried on with special attention to the way this book, which starts out on the customary ground of philosophic-intellectual argument, suddenly deserts it to lift, winged, into realms where every thought quickens and is free creative deed. Simply to follow that metamorphosis is to receive an infusion of etheric forces whereby one's own thinking is enlivened and one's mind tuned to intuitive perception.

A like transformation is brought about by steeping oneself in fairy tales and great poetry. For rhythms and images teem with spiritual life, and as one absorbs them one can feel one's own life being magically quickened.

It is wholly contrary to a truly modern community building concept to lean on leaders in a conversation. Rather does the creation of a Grail Cup consciousness require an intact circle of fully active, responsible individuals whose only leader is the spiritual world. If, before coming together, every such individual brings the theme of the meeting alive in himself and then, having arrived there, suppresses the thoughts he has had, while offering the life they have engendered to the spirit, the spirit will not fail to bestow fresh insight on a gathering prepared to receive it. This can be experienced again and again. One has only to be active and keep the way clear, knowing that “where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of you.”

The hope of that Presence can be strengthened by learning to listen to one's fellowmen in exactly the way one would listen to the spiritual world: evocatively, with reverence, refraining from any trace of reaction, making one's own soul a seedbed for others' germinal ideas.

This is not to imply that the listener surrenders the least measure of discrimination. He weighs what he hears. But he does so in a novel manner by cleansing himself of sympathy and antipathy in order to serve as an objective sounding board against which the words of the speaker ring true or false.

Thus the speaker is brought to hear himself and weigh his own utterances. Correction – in the sense of an awakening – is there without others sitting in judgment on him.

Nor is this all. Listening evocatively is a sun like deed. It rays the warmth and light of interest into the thought-life quickening in the circle and encourages it to a veritable burgeoning.

A question often asked by those who become interested in exploring conversations is: How does one go about choosing themes?

Certainly not in the usual arbitrary manner. One cannot, as perhaps happened in the salon, seek out the intellectually most appealing theme, nor, like today's discussion group, run one's finger down a list of Timely Topics trying to light on the timeliest. Instead, burning questions that have been harbored in the souls of the participants will seek the light, -- questions that have sprung from a heart's concern with matters of the spirit and are therefore already full of life, and fire and rooted in something deeper than the intellect. Of their own vitality these will burst out to claim the attention of the meeting.

Often a theme teems with such fullness of life that it goes through a long series of metamorphoses requiring many meetings for its exploration. Themes of this kind are especially valuable, for they tend to become lifelong spiritual concerns of all the members, and it is easy to see how indissolubly conversations about such matters link the participants in the conversation.


For a conversation to become a work of art, its life must be given form within a framework. Otherwise it would straggle on amorphously.

The framework that keeps conversations shaped is built in part of temporal elements, in part of a very simple ritual. Thus it will be found desirable to fix the exact time of both beginning and ending meetings, and to keep punctually to it, while everyone who intends to be present understands that he should arrive well beforehand to prepare himself to help launch the evening's activity in a gathered mood. These are invariable rules of esoteric practice. The ritual consists of rising and speaking together a line or more chosen for its spiritually-orienting content, -- for example “Ex deo nascimur (Of God we are born);” “In Christo morimur (In Christ we die);” “Per spiritum sanctum reviviscimus (Through the Holy Spirit we shall live again).” The same or another meditation may be spoken to end the meeting, again exactly at a pre-determined hour.

It may be feared that rigid time-limits inhibit the free unfolding of a conversation. This fear proves ungrounded. A painter's inspiration is not limited by the size of his canvas. Rather do limits serve in every art form as awakeners, sharpening awareness of what can be accomplished, and composition always adapts itself intuitively to the given space.

To make a composition all of one piece as it must be if it is to rank as art, the conversing circle needs to take unusual measures to preserve unity. Here again, there is a vast difference between a discussion and a conversation. In the former, few feel the least compunction about engaging in asides. Disruptive and rude though these are, and betraying conceit in their implication that what one is muttering to one's neighbor is of course of far more interest than what the man who has the floor is saying, they are not as final a disaster as when they take place in a conversation. For discussions base themselves on intellect, and intellectual thinking tends naturally to separateness. But conversations are of an order of thought in which illumined hearts serve as the organs of intelligence, and the tendency of hearts is to union. The conversation group must make itself a magic circle; the least break in its Grail-Cup wholeness would let precious light-substance generated by the meeting drain away. Sensitive participants will feel asides and interruptions to be nothing less than a cutting off of the meeting from the spiritual world.

Many individuals feel that no conversation could ever match the inspiration of a top-flight lecture. Hence, they tend to think conversing is a waste of time much better spent reading lectures or listening to them.

No doubt lectures do serve important functions. Painstakingly prepared, they convey concentrations of spiritual substance to listeners, who sit down as it were to a meal someone else has placed before them. But to continue the analogy, dyed-in-the-wool lecture-goers do all their eating at restaurants, never learning the lovely art of home-making.

There is something woefully one-sided in such a way of life. Not only does it avoid responsibility and neglect opportunities for creative growth: it means remaining childishly dependent in the most important phase of human evolution, when one should be progressing from having truth revealed to discovering truth by one's own activity.

Rudolf Steiner was no friend of dependency in any form. He seldom told people the solution to a problem, and the only when exceptional pressures of time required it. Rather did he show the way to solving problems for oneself. And that is what the times demand of us: that we become spiritually self-active, learning to draw sustenance from the spiritual world for earth's renewal.

Goethean conversations will be found an ideal schooling for this task of foremost importance.

Personal Readiness for Collaboration

Personal Readiness

The integrity of a community or organization rests with the integrity of the individuals involved. Each individual has a responsibility to the community to continually develop themselves. They also have an opportunity to grow and develop through their relationships within the organization. The wisdom in a community is often spelled out in the covenants and agreements laid down over time through the experience of working together. In Building Regenerative Communities, Mary Christenson and Marianne Fieber identified an inspired set of  practices outlined by Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Five Agreements, that help each individual bring their highest self to their work in the community.

They recommend that each participant become familiar with and practice the Five
Agreements outlined by Don Miguel Ruiz:

1. Be impeccable with your word.
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to
speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don’t take anything personally.
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don’t make assumptions.
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings,
sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely
transform your life.

4. Always do your best.
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are tired as opposed to well rested. Under any circumstance,
simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and

5. Be skeptical, but learn to listen.
Don’t believe yourself or anybody else. Use the power of doubt to question
everything you hear: Is it really the truth? Listen to the intent behind the words, and you will understand the real message.

As Don Miguel Ruiz says, “By practicing the Five Agreements, what you are really doing is respecting everything in creation. You are respecting your dream; you are respecting everybody else’s dream. If you use these tools, your effort is really for everyone, because your joy, your happiness, your peace, and your heaven are contagious. When you are happy, the people around you are happy too, and it inspires them to change their own world.”

~ Marianne Fieber


The Five Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz « Waking Giant Blog,

The Art of the Apology

Everything you ever need to know about how to apologize

From The Perfect Apology (

 Regret and Remorse

In order to really appreciate or understand the crucial role perfect apologies can play in our daily lives it helps to understand the differences between the mistakes we make and the apologies we deliver as a result—some actions we regret, while others we are truly sorry for.

We'll begin here by describing important distinctions between mistakes and actions that elicit feelings of regret and those that expose stronger feelings of remorse. Perfect apologies should be tailored to address one or the other type of mistake, in most cases.

Regret is a rational, intelligent and, on occasion, emotional reaction to some unexpected, unintended and often costly consequence of some event or action.

Apologies that expose feelings of regret are often designed to address the consequences of actions people have taken but wish they hadn't, or actions they have not yet taken but wish they had. We usually regret the consequences of relatively minor mistakes or errors and, given the option of revisiting the decision, would probably decide to do something else.

However, we also express regrets for the consequences of events over which we have very little control, or for actions that are intentionally taken for perfectly rational reasons but nevertheless produce unintended consequences—an apology from an airline to its passengers for cancelling a flight; an apology from a mechanic for charging much more than a customer expected for unforeseen repairs; an apology for having to fire someone because of poor job performance or incompetence; etc...

Companies often express regrets for the harm caused by their decision despite the fact that a similar decision would be taken in the future for the same reasons. For example, airlines often apologize for cancelling flights because of poor weather but would do the same thing under similar circumstances in the future. Decisions can be right even if the consequences for the customer are costly. In fact most business apologies take the form of addressing the consequences of one or another unavoidable yet regrettable event.

Regrets are typically amoral—there is no right or wrong associated with the actions; it's the consequences that matter (Miller 2005:83)1. In most of these cases the expression of regret through an apology is really secondary.

Remorse, on the other hand, takes on a bitter, deeper form that elicits much stronger personal and emotional reactions to personal guilt, societal shame, humiliation, resentment and often anger.

While regret is amoral and concerned with good versus bad consequences, remorse has more to do with right versus wrong actions2. Feelings of remorse are often caused by actions that constitute serious and painful errors of judgment and often draws out powerful compulsions to fix the mistake(s) through personal change and sacrifice.

Learn about remorse and self-forgiveness.

Or, review our selection of quotes on regret and our collection of remorse quotes.


Remorse, Self-Forgiveness and the Perfect Apology

According to wikipedia, forgiveness is the mental and/or spiritual process of moving past feelings of resentment or anger against another person for some mistake they've made, or ceasing to demand some form of restitution or compensation.

We at Perfect Apology are agnostic about when and under what conditions people should accept an apology or forgive those responsible for hurting them—we certainly know how you should craft an apology to increase your chances of being forgiven, but we can't tell you when to accept an apology. These are very personal decisions that are never really open to useful advice or guidance.

For whatever reason, and despite delivering the perfect apology, some people are simply not prepared to forgive. But this fact should have no bearing whatsoever on whether one should take the time to craft a perfect apology. There are other reasons perfect apologies can help when working through a personal crisis.

For example, we often feel compelled to apologize when we humiliated someone else, but occasionally we need to apologize to those we hurt because we are humiliated by what we've done. Remorseful and humiliating errors produce uncomfortable feelings and personal doubts about who we are. They create negative images that directly contradict the primarily positive impressions we have of ourselves. Serious mistakes that elicit strong feelings of remorse force us not only to question our own character but also raise doubts about whether we actually deserve to be forgiven in the first place.

Self-forgiveness—the process of accepting the inevitability of mistakes by refusing to let them define us—is an important first step, and a perfect apology can go a long way toward helping us deal with these personal crises. In fact, successful apologies occur most frequently when we first forgive ourselves for the mistakes we've made.

Regardless of whether we are forgiven by others for our mistakes, therefore, the act of apologizing—of taking the time to craft an apology and suffering the consequences of delivering it—will help to re-establish a positive self image. That's why it's so important to take the time to do it right, because partial apologies will compound the crisis when they fail. Short cuts lead to failures that often make things worse; they do very little to resolve the crisis and even less to improve your own self image or the image others have of you.

On the other hand, a perfect apology that works will go a long way toward generating the positive feedback we need to manage our personal crises and related feelings of remorse and humiliation. If people we hurt are prepared to forgive us by accepting the apology and moving past our mistake, the message they're sending is that they value the relationship and respect your character.

The point here is that whether or not an apology works, taking the time to do it right by making sure your message includes ALL of the ingredients of a perfect apology will pay off in the end. It's worth the investment.


How To Apologize

How to apologize? What's the best approach to take? How do I say I'm sorry? These are questions we often ask ourselves when we are in a situation where we have offended or otherwise hurt someone.

An effective apology is both a Science and an Art.
The Science is basically the formula—what ingredients to combine under the right circumstances to produce the perfect reaction; that is to be forgiven.

The Art is in how you apply the Science—how you actually deliver the apology.  When you combine the science and art of an apology you inevitably get the right answer to the central question of "how to apologize?"
There are obviously many different ways to apologize, but the ideal approach for your case depends on your answers to three straightforward questions.

Who are you apologizing to?
A family member (which one: mother, father, sister, brother etc.?) A member of your extended family? A spouse or lover? A good friend, girlfriend or boyfriend? A business contact or co-worker?  Etc...

How close is your relationship with this person? Is the relationship a romantic one? Is this a business relationship? Is it a distant, but important family relationship?


How strained is your relationship as a result of the mistake?  How serious was the mistake? Apologizing to a close family member who has been seriously damaged because of something you said or did requires a different approach from one in which a friend has been hurt because of something you said or forgot to do.

There are two basic ways to deliver apologies. You can apologize in writing or verbally. In both cases you need to think through the apology to make sure that all the ingredients are present.

There are many variations in both written and verbal apologies but keep in mind these two key points when thinking about how to apologize.

A written apology gives the recipient the time to think about the situation and your apology, before responding.

A verbal apology requires that you be prepared for the conversation that will follow the apology based on the recipient's reaction whether it is positive or negative. So be prepared to think on your feet!

If the person is more of an acquaintance than a friend,
and the infraction is minor, go with a more formal approach. Write a brief apology letter and send it to them by regular mail or email.

If this is a close relationship and the infraction is major, then take the person out for a coffee, lunch or dinner.

If the relationship is intimate then think about romantic ways to deliver the apology. If you decide that a letter of apology is the right way to go, make sure it is handwritten and not typed or sent by email. A verbal apology in this case should be done in person and not over the phone.

Visit our apology DOs and DON'Ts pages for some quick tips and secondary considerations.
Apologizing for many of us can be a difficult thing to do. However, our level of discomfort is usually relative to the offence.

Most of us have no problem saying "I'm Sorry" when we accidentally bump into someone on the street. In fact that type of situation is so common to us that the ensuing apology has become a reflex—an automatic response with natural timing. But what happens when we have to think about apologizing?

When we start to think about the apology, we also think about the behavior or actions that led up to it. As a result, our thoughts, emotions and pride become part of the mix and we often feel embarrassed and a sense of shame and discomfort with the situation which then translates itself into not knowing how to apologize.

The good news is, that if we messed things up all the time, we would know exactly what to say and how to apologize—just like we do when we bump into a stranger. The fact that we are not sure how to say sorry, means that most of the time our behavior is pretty much on track.


The Art of Apologizing

Apologizing is both an "Art" and a "Science". The Science is basically the list of ingredients you need to combine when crafting the most effective apology for your case.

A good analogy is a picnic basket. A picnic basket typically includes plates, glasses, cutlery, napkins, etc.—all of the ingredients we usually pack to prepare for (and hopefully experience) the perfect picnic.  This is equivalent to the Science of an apology.

The Art of an apology, on the other hand, deals with how you should package, present and deliver the ingredients in the picnic basket. Giving some thought to these surrounding elements can help make your personal apology more relevant and successful. This is why apologizing effectively really can be thought of as an art.

To illustrate our point, think again about giving the picnic basket as a gift. When selecting a gift, you inevitably think about who it's for and what kind of relationship you have.  You also think about the occasion or reason for giving the gift, and then decide on wrapping, presentation, and delivery.

Now let's look at each of these elements and see how they relate to the Art of Apologizing.

If the recipient is young, playful at heart and a good friend, you would likely choose a basket that came with plastic plates in their favorite colors and fun patterns with bold and bright glasses and funky cutlery.

However, if the person was more mature or conservative and your relationship with them more formal, then you might opt for a classic china pattern and clear glass tumblers and tea cups.

Of course, if the gift was for your girlfriend or boyfriend, then you'd probably look for something more personal with a romantic pattern on the plates and long stemmed wine glasses, perhaps with a rose or two.

The point is that the personality of the recipient (his/her likes, dislikes, values, personal preferences) and the relationship you with them all have an important affect on the style, presentation and delivery  for your gift, as they would for an apology.

The elements (ingredients) included in most picnic baskets are essentially the same, but there is still a great deal of room for choosing different types/styles/forms of the ingredients for the best picnic basket for your case.  Apologizing should be viewed in very much the same way, whether it's a personal or business apology.

In other words, although every apology should include the same elements, the level of playfulness, formality, or romance you bring to it should be dictated by the recipient, the relationship that you have with them, and the nature of the infraction.

With all this in mind, when apologizing always think about which words to use based on the person and your relationship, and the overall tone based on the infraction. The more serious the infraction the more serious the tone should be.

WARNING: Always err on the side of assuming the recipient views the infraction as serious.

Building on the picnic basket analogy, let's look at the occasion or reason for giving the gift. Is it a birthday? A college graduation? Valentine's day? Depending on the occasion, you may think of including some extra elements within the basket to make the gift a little more special.

For example, if it's a birthday you might want to add a few balloons, party hats and cupcakes to the basket. For graduation, perhaps a bottle of champagne and an agenda. For Valentine's Day, a small vase with a single rose and a heart shaped box of chocolates.

For a good friend, how about apologizing with a custom CD of songs about friendship. Or, for the more mature and traditional person whose feelings you may have hurt, why not a box of candy hinting that life is much 'sweeter' for you when they are a part of it.

And for your girlfriend or boyfriend, think about including a romantic poem, quotation, the lyrics from a favorite song, or maybe even some flowers.

Making an apology more thoughtful by adding things that tailor it to the recipient and the situation is an essential component of all perfect apologies.



Need the Perfect Business Apology?

Extending the perfect business apology can be slightly more complex than apologizing in our personal life. Regardless of how the apology is delivered, whether it be through a business apology letter or verbal communication, the basic principles are the same. However, the content of the apology itself, the timing, and the manner in which it is delivered really depends on the parties involved.

In business, there are simply more factors at play.
Although moral reasons exist equally for both personal and business apologies, strategic reasons for extending an apology are more common in business, and are based purely on business decisions.

Remember the old saying "the customer is always right"? This is a time tested customer service philosophy that virtually every successful company adheres to. What's the end result of such a policy?

A series of business apologies that are extended by a company or its representatives regardless of who is at fault. These are apologies that are offered for rational strategic reasons related to customer acquisition, customer retention, and customer loyalty.

However, when carefully crafted, the same end results can be achieved even when the company has made a mistake. On the other hand, a poorly crafted, badly timed or non-existent apology will lose this and many other customers.

In many cases, especially in regard to customer complaints, the perfect customer apology letter can help retain customers and present you with an opportunity to build customer loyalty.

Business is all about relationships—relationships with new customers, old customers, clients, vendors, and with the larger community. To understand how you can tailor an apology to strengthen or rebuild one of these relationships you need to look at your particular circumstances. And to do this well, the following three strategies will come in handy.

First, you need to look at the reason behind your business apology and who has been affected by the situation.

Second, you also need to determine the most appropriate way to apologize and when that apology should be given.

Third, you need to ask and answer the following four basic questions:

1.What are you apologizing for?
2.Who are you apologizing to?
3.How do you apologize?
4.When should you apologize?
Your answers to each of these questions will determine the perfect business apology for your situation, like “Vendor B” did in this sample business apology letter.
As for the apology itself, the guidelines for any perfect apology remain the same.

give a detailed account of the situation
acknowledge the hurt or damage done
take full responsibility
recognize your role or the company’s in the situation
include a statement of regret
ask for forgiveness
promise that it won't happen again
provide a form of restitution, if possible

Don't forget the importance of timing when delivering an apology AND beware of the common traps that many small businesses fall into.
When giving an account of the situation, only include the details of the specific event. In other words, do not talk about broader related issues. Remember that the apology is all about the recipient and the damage they have suffered, and not your business situation.

Don't make excuses or include any comments that could elicit a "that isn't my problem" type of response, as in "my assistant was home sick that day" or "I never saw the memo".

Finally, think about a proactive approach when apologizing to help solidify relationships with your customers. We show you how one airline, through an unprompted apology letter, leverages unforeseen problems to build on their loyalty program and strengthen their customer base.

You can also take a look at this masterfully crafted sample apology letter sent to us by one of our readers.

One final but important note: If the incident could result in ANY form of legal action or liability with ANY party then delaying a response to seek the legal advice of an attorney is VERY prudent. Learn more about the legal implications of a business apology.

Other interesting information on business apologies can be found in our apology research section or check out a Q & A session with on corporate apologies.


Is a Formal Apology Appropriate for the Intended Recipient?

Who are you apologizing to? Is a formal apology appropriate? Is the recipient of the apology a co-worker, boss, partner, customer, vendor, a company, or the community-at-large?

In the same way that we need to understand what we are apologizing for we also need to understand who we are apologizing to and whether a formal apology is necessary.

When dealing with apologies directed to other companies or to the community at large, a formal approach should always be taken. Whether it be a public apology or a through a business apology letter, the formality underscores the sentiment, reinforces the message, and conveys to the recipient that you are taking the situation seriously.

However, if the recipient of the apology is an individual then we need to examine the connection we have with them.

Are they purely a business contact? A co-worker? Our boss? Do we have any sort of personal relationship with them? If so, how long has it been? Historically, have our exchanges been more formal or friendly? What kind of personality do they have?

These are the types of questions that will help you to decide how formal the apology should be.

A rule of thumb to go by is the more distant the relationship the more formal the approach. A formal apology is also warranted whenever hierarchy is involved, for example, when apologizing to one’s boss or to an employee.

What if the employee or boss is also a friend?

Then a two-tiered approach can be taken. This will help to define the relationship as one of both business and friendship. So, a letter of apology should be written to satisfy the business side of things while a follow-up conversation will help to reestablish the friendship.

The personality of the recipient of the apology is another thing to keep in mind. If the person is normally shy or reserved and doesn’t like confrontation, take that into account. This type of individual would more likely appreciate receiving a note or letter rather than a face-to-face apology.

Knowing who you are apologizing to and understanding what kind of relationship you have will help determine the type of business apology required, how formal an apology it should be, and the manner in which to deliver it.


Business Apology Letters:
One of Many Ways to Apologize

What is the best way to apologize? Is it better to write a business apology letter, send a quick note or email, extend an apology over the phone, or speak in person?
The right judgment call will depend on your particular situation. In most cases, a well-crafted business apology letter is the best approach, especially when the relationship between the parties involved is not a 'personal' one.

A friendly warning: you should NEVER assume the relationship is personal and friendly unless you are absolutely sure.  An apology based on the wrong assumption can be potentially harmful and counterproductive.

Written apologies give you the time to choose the right words and allow you to make sure that all the 'pieces' of the perfect business apology are in place. In addition, archiving your own sample business apology letters on your computer allows you to quickly respond to similar situations in the future as they arise.

Finally, a written business apology can be sent three different ways, each conveying a slightly distinct (but meaningful) measure of seriousness and respect.

A priority post letter, for example, conveys more importance than regular mail, and regular mail more than an email.  Although the letter's content may be identical, and although all three approaches inherently highlight the seriousness of the situation by providing the injured party with a tangible piece of evidence that acknowledges mistakes and the inconvenience suffered, some situations require additional signals.

On the other hand, if the parties involved have more than strictly a business relationship then the manner in which the apology is delivered needs to be looked at more closely..

For example, if a customer frequents the business premises on a regular basis and a friendship (no matter how close) has grown as a result, then a verbal apology by phone or in person may be more appropriate. In fact, if a more formal approach is used it may signal to the customer that their assumptions about the nature of the relationship are wrong.

Choosing whether to apologize by telephone or in person is largely dependant upon timing and geography. Assuming the apology’s recipient is within reasonable geographic proximity the decision should be made based on when you will next see the person. In some cases, depending on the nature of the error, taking the time to make a longer trip in person may be the right thing to do.
If the delay is reasonable and the cause for the apology is not too severe then waiting until the next time you see one another is acceptable. However, if one or neither of these conditions is true then picking up the phone as soon as possible and extending the apology is recommended.

If a similar situation occurs, but the injured party in this case is not a customer but instead a partner or vendor, then the verbal apology is still appropriate and should be followed up with a business apology letter.

This two-tiered approach helps to re-establish the business relationship after the incident. It shows the injured party that you understand the rules and boundaries of business, and that the business relationship that you share is separate from any personal one that you may have.

So tailor the manner in which you deliver your apology with the same care that you would take in writing your business apology letters. Think about the situation and the parties involved. Consider the best way to make amends and how soon you should apologize.

Learn about timing an apology correctly.


Timing an Apology Correctly
When should you deliver the apology? How does timing an apology correctly affect the way it is perceived? Does every incident require immediate action or do some situations warrant a delay?

As we illustrated in the example of a typical customer apology letter, timing an apology correctly with a quick response to a business error can actually benefit the company and build customer loyalty. There are very few cases when it is best to hold off on apologizing, especially in business.

However, if the incident could result in ANY form of legal action or liability with ANY party then delaying a response to seek the legal advice of an attorney is VERY prudent. Follow this link to learn more about the legal implications of business apologies.


Apologies are about acknowledging a mistake or wrongdoing, and their effectiveness is largely determined by the offended party believing in their sincerity. Poor timing or a delay in delivering a perfect business apology could raise questions about your sincerity or imply ulterior motives. In either case, this is bad for business.

For example, "Company B" is a vendor of "Company A" whose last shipment of product was unsatisfactory. "Company A" advises "Vendor B" of the situation with a detailed account of the poor quality of goods they received. "Vendor B" holds off on delivering an apology for the substandard shipment.

How does timing an apology play into how the apology is perceived? How does the relationship between the two companies change as a result of poor timing?

"Company A" is now more likely to question the integrity of "Vendor B". Why did they not apologize and acknowledge the problems with their product when there is tangible evidence of defective goods?

Some of the likely conclusions that "Company A" will draw on "Vendor B" are:


The company has no long-term vision or integrity.
The company is only interested in making money.
The company does not care about the relationship.
The company cannot be relied on to deliver as promised.

Once "Company A" begins to think of "Vendor B" in these terms the dynamic of the relationship will have changed.

If the apology is issued too late, it will likely be viewed as insincere or, worse, as a shallow effort to de-escalate the conflict to avoid further action by "Company A". In the end "Vendor B" is seen as untrustworthy and, therefore, unworthy of future business.

However, a well timed apology in the same situation can produce significantly more positive (and profitable) results.

The apology is now more likely to be viewed as sincere.  As a result, the company will gain more trust and integrity while creating the impression it has long term vision.

Since dealing with problems is such a natural and important part of doing business, the perception created by a well timed apology will inevitably enhance the overall value of maintaining the business relationship.

See the sample apology letter that "Vendor B" would issue in this situation.

So given the same set of circumstances we now see that timing an apology correctly can make all the difference in how it, and the person or company extending it, are perceived.



Feedback that Works

A Feedback Model that Works

Knowing how to create and deliver effective feedback is a key leadership skill. Effective feedback motivates the receiver to begin, continue or stop behaviors that affect performance. In addition to accomplishing its direct purpose, an effective feedback message is a self-development tool for the receiver, and it often has benefits for other members of the team.

Not knowing how to give feedback can result in messages that are hurtful, confusing, and counter-productive. Many feedback messages leave the receiver unsure of what to do with the information. "You are good as a leader" or "you could be more strategic" gives the receiver an idea of how he or she is seen by the sender, but such a message doesn't tell the receiver what behavior to repeat if he wants to continue being a good leader or what to do or what action to avoid in order to be more strategic.

  • Effective feedback is based on observed behavior and tells the receiver the impact of a specific behavior on you.
  • Ineffective feedback often is vague, indirect, and exaggerated with generalities. Ineffective feedback often judges the person rather than his or her actions.

A valuable resource to illustrate this skill and provide a three-step technique is the guidebook Feedback That Works: How to Build and Deliver Your Message by Sloan Weitzel (available for purchase from the Center for Creative Leadership online at

Weitzel's feedback technique is called SBI (shorthand for Situation-Behavior-Impact). Following these steps can help the receiver more easily see what actions he or she can take to continue or improve performance or to change behavior that is ineffective or even an obstacle to performance. An effective feedback message tells the receiver the impact of a specific behavior on the sender. Here is an example of how to use the three-step model:

Step 1: Capture the Situation

("Yesterday morning in staff meeting,...")

Step 2: Describe the Behavior

("you had a number of side conversations and at times were joking during my presentation.")

Step 3: Deliver the Impact

("When you were talking to others while I was speaking, it was very disruptive to what I was trying to accomplish. I felt frustrated and annoyed by it.")

The recipient of well-intended and well-delivered feedback receives a two-fold gift. First, there is the almost immediate benefit of hearing what others think. Second, there is the afterlife of feedback. We often replay in our mind what we've heard, review written feedback privately at a later date, and check out perceptions with family and others we trust. Often we'll make some changes immediately and then make more significant changes with deeper reflection and consideration.

Constructive feedback is a most valuable tool — useful to repair a poor working relationship, improve a team's productivity, help a co-worker be more successful in his or her career, and demonstrate your own growing abilities as an effective leader. Yet, it is a skill many managers regard as underdeveloped. A recent CCL survey of managers showed that only 5 percent reported they were very effective in providing feedback; and 98 percent said they considered strong skills in providing feedback important or very important. More than half said they had the most difficulty giving feedback to bosses. Nearly 30 percent indicated that they find it most difficult to give feedback to peers.

Ask yourself if you consider yourself very effective in providing feedback. Next, consider if strong skills in providing feedback are important or very important to you. If you fall in the majority of managers who view effective feedback as important and regard their own skill level as needing improvement, put a higher priority on developing this essential leadership skill.

Working Dynamics

Providing coaching, support and assessment tools related to conflict for leaders

Healthy Conversation, Communication and Agreements: More Resources

Communication by Connie Starzynski from the Art of Administration was written as a guide to administrators and Waldorf school leaders to shed light on the dynamics of communication of all kinds in a Waldorf school.

 Speaking, Listening and Understanding by Heinz Zimmerman is a book that goes deeply into the art of conversation in groups and how, by bringing new consciousness into our speaking and listening we can transform our work together.

A Sample Communications Covenant is a document showing how one community created and articulated their agreements about communications.

 Communication in a Young School from the Young Schools Guide is a short article by David Mitchell about the ways that groups involved in creating a school can focus their attention on the topic of healthy communications.

Non-Violent Communication: An Introduction by Marshall Rosenberg is a 35-page booklet that outlines the basics of NVC. Rosenbloom is the founder of the NVC movement and has helped thousands of people and organizations review, understand, refine and transform their skills in healthy communication.

Click on the article names to go to the document.