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Postcards from Scotland

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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 03/05/2005

One of the big themes for me at the moment is ‘feedback’. In other words, the type of information we get from others on how well we are doing. As someone who has worked in the persona/management development arena for over a decade I was always aware that there wasn’t enough of it around but I’d never fully realised the significance of it or how it might be distinctly cultural. One of the things that highlighted it for me recently was last week’s workshop on motivation at the network meeting. Alan McLean had us doing various exercises to think about what we found motivational. He then got us to tell him the outcomes of our discussions and wrote them in four columns on a flip chart. Each column represented what he calls the motivation ‘drivers’. One of the most significant is feedback and yet this column remained empty. In other words, people were able to identify the three other aspects of motivation - engagement, stimulation and structure - but said nothing about how motivating it is to get feedback from others. Presumably this is because they get so little of it they aren’t aware of its motivational effect! Alan says that this happens repeatedly at his workshops so it wasn’t that we were an unrepresentative bunch. This completely echoes some of the comments I get from people who come to Scotland to work – particularly Australians and Americans. For example, just two weeks ago an American woman who is working in the Scottish Executive came to have a chat with me. During the meeting she said “You know, I’ve no idea how I’m getting on. Do people like my ideas? Am I being useful? I haven’t a clue as no-one tells me anything.”

As far as far as the absence of feedback is concerned I don’t think that there is probably much difference between Scotland and England. English reserve and reticence no doubt militates against saying much to other people about the effect they are having. In fact in his book on the English Jeremy Paxman recounts a great tale about a 19th century visitor to England who maintained: “If you remark to an Englishman, in a smoking compartment, that he has dropped some cigar-ash on his trousers, he will probably answer: ‘For the past ten minutes I have seen a box of matches on fire in your back coat pocket, but I did not interfere with you for that.’” Indeed, it is even possible that the Scots give more feedback than the southern English as we at least like being critical! The fact that feedback is fairly standard in the US is one of the reasons why some American materials do not always work here. Here’s a good example of what I mean. Professor Martin Seligman and some colleagues have designed a way of measuring what they call people’s ‘signature strengths’. To find out your top five (out of 24) you can go on-line and fill out a questionnaire called the VIA. Now I’ve used the results of the questionnaire in a number of team development workshops in Scotland. People like the fact that it is strengths based and looking basically at good old fashioned virtues such as perseverence and modesty but they find the questionnaire very difficult to fill in because a number of the questions say things like ‘my friends tell me I’m a very creative person” or whatever. And the response of most Brits I’ve spoken to who fill it in is usually the same: “My friends tell me nothing”

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