3 Ways to Make Feedback Less Scary

Critical feedback can be very hard to take. However, accepting and analyzing feedback is one of the only ways to improve.
min read

If you’re anything like me, being a camp director is not just a regular job. It’s something you pour your heart and soul into; it’s a position that blurs the line between career and something like a family. After committing so much of your time, energy, and talent into your camp, critical feedback can be very hard to take. However, accepting and analyzing feedback is one of the only ways we can improve–and work to make our camps and programs better for all. So, how do we do it? Here are three ways you can make feedback a little less scary.

Ask for feedback constantly

Don’t wait until the very end of the summer to ask for feedback. Ask for feedback all the time! You can do this several ways, but here’s a really easy one to do on site with staff and/or campers: The “fist of five.”

Tell your audience that you’d like them to “vote” on how they liked something at camp using this technique–it’s simple. Just hold up five fingers if you loved the item in question, zero fingers if you despised it, and one, two, three, or four fingers if you fall somewhere in between.

I love using this technique as an easy (and unscientific) “poll” to check how a new activity went—lots of fives, and we’re doing it again; lots of zeros and ones, and we’re not (or we are adjusting it). The more you get feedback, the more you can make micro-adjustments. It’s way better to find out in the moment and make a change than to wait and only find out that something you are doing was a problem all summer.

Have someone else review your feedback first

Sometimes you are not the best person to review your feedback! Taking the raw feedback data at face value (especially the “comments” section) can be really tough. It’s a very small percentage of people out there, but the fact of the matter is that occasionally people will be mean on things like end-of-summer surveys. And, if one person is mean, you don’t need to read them.  

A trusted third-party can:

  • Review the raw feedback
  • Extract themes
  • Edit out anything that is inappropriate or personally hurtful

For instance, I knew a camp director who was openly a part of the LGBTQ+ community and worked in an area where there was a percentage of people who were not accepting of LGBTQ+ folks. She would always have a few hurtful responses about her personal identity on her end of summer surveys. To avoid this, she would always have a trusted colleague read them first and extract anything inappropriate and/or personal. This made the process of reading the surveys much more palatable for her. Even if you are not anticipating personal attacks, having someone else do a first read-through can be helpful.

Code your feedback

Approach the results of things like your end-of-summer survey like a researcher. If you approach your survey results like data that you need to analyze and code, you can better assess it.

In coding qualitative data, you sort or organize information into categories to look for themes and patterns. This helps you from getting “stuck” on one comment that is especially haunting.

For instance, say I get 100 surveys back from overnight camp and one person says their child did not “have anything to eat because the food was so awful.” This comment might stick out in your mind because it’s so strong. But if you’re coding data and this is the only comment out of 100 about bad food, you will recognize that it is not a theme and more about the individual’s personal preference than about you doing anything wrong overall.

Sorting and coding data can ensure you don’t make a bunch of changes based on the opinions of a few outliers–but rather that you can see more clearly what the data is telling you. Plus, the mindset of approaching your survey results like a researcher is a lot healthier than basically considering them to just be a list of compliments and insults you have to brace yourself for!

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