Positive Feedback

If you would prefer to listen to me read this post – you can find it here:

Self-With-Others is based in unconditional positive feedback.

Unconditional. Positive. Feedback.

I don’t mean constructive criticism – where you praise someone, and follow it with: ‘…but….’.

Unconditional positive feedback means commenting only on things you think the person you are guiding has done well. You offer unconditional acceptance. Doing this, you help them build a foundation of confidence from which to grow.

Why is this important?
Isn’t it just a way of avoiding difficult feedback?
Isn’t it not addressing flaws and errors?
Isn’t it lazy?
Isn’t it flattery?

Actually, no!

When we ask someone to try something new, we ask them to take a risk. When they attempt something they’ve never tried before, probably, at some level, they’re going to fail.

We ask them to give up the security of what they know, and enter unknown territory.

If you want somebody to do that, make them feel secure! Remind them that even if, as probably they will, they fail, you will not judge it as ‘failure’, but as ‘learning’.

Not to succeed at a task is not the same as ‘failing’. In falling short, or going wrong, they have attempted what they can’t do yet. That’s what learning is.

‘Failing’ (to achieve) is actually ‘succeeding’ (in learning).

Positive feedback asks us to value and draw lessons from these successes.

The first role of positive feedback is to create a secure foundation people can grow from – a ‘home’ they can leave to encounter new things, and return to when those new things are overwhelming.

This secure foundation is built on unconditional acceptance from their teacher/audience/colleagues. It gives permissison to take risks.

Whatever our intentions, when we criticise somebody they feel attacked. If you feel attacked, you will, at some level, defend yourself. Defensiveness and creativity – defensiveness and risk-taking – are not good bedfellows.

When we offer positive feedback, we reflect back to a student what they have done, without generating in them a need to defend, or justify themselves.

We encourage them to observe their strengths and potential as objectively as possible.

What happens when a student has done something ‘not good enough’?

Let’s separate developmental feedback from technical feedback. If a student has not achieved certain objectives, it’s perfectly possible to give technical correction, without making feedback a personal criticism. Not: ‘You didn’t achieve this’, but: ‘This needs more work’, or ‘This could be different’, or, ‘What would happen if we did this another way?’

Though you are saying nearly the same thing, respectful, evolutionary, positive feedback has a different tone – a developmental tone.

You can offer unconditional acceptance to someone, even while pointing out technical shortcomings.

The role of positive feedback is to encourage people to take risks – to take the risk of learning. If technical feedback is needed, use positive feedback to point out what someone did well, and how she might build a bridge from where she is, to where she needs to be.

This is feedback that does not point out ‘wrong steps’ but ‘next steps’. We use ‘demonstrated achievements’ as a springboard for deciding next steps.

Positive feedback asks the teacher/facilitator to engage in detail with each individual’s work. You observe carefully, searching for exactly what and how someone is doing well. Then you feed back what you saw – reflecting the details of the work she actually did.

Positive feedback is not flattery. Positive feedback is precise, detailed feedback, focusing on achievement. It challenges the idea that criticism is about failings. Criticism can equally be about successes.

Positive feedback demands humility. Rather than telling someone how she ‘should’ be, how things ‘should be done’ (in your opinion), it asks you to enter into conversation, helping someone develop her own voice, her own language, her own ways of doing things. If I tell someone what they should have done, I am telling them how to do things my way. When I tell them what I like and respect, I am daring to collaborate in their learning.

Positive feedback challenges the assumptions of authority.

Though there are often technical things that need to be learned, ultimately we are trying to empower those we guide. That means helping people find their own path, rather than insisting they walk your path.

One more thing about positive feedback: if colleagues give positive feedback to each other. It can establish a safe, joyful and creative environment to work in.

It’s more than that though.

If someone responds to a piece of work saying: ‘I liked this’, ‘I was really engaged in that moment’ or ‘I’d never thought of it like that before….’, each sentence begins with the word ‘I’. The giver of feedback is pointing out her own perspectives and interests. Feedback, though given to someone else, reveals more about the giver than the receiver.

In commenting on the work of others, we educate ourselves.

Feedback to another, is feedback to the self. It is a key learning process.

The process of giving positive feedback – reflecting on and analysing what you admire, respect and perhaps even envy in the work of others, is part of developing self-knowledge.

Try unconditional positive feedback. Not because you don’t wish to grow or facilitate growth in others, but because you wish to grow joyfully, creatively and healthily from where you are, to where you aspire to be.

(I acknowledge a deep debt of gratitude to performance teacher Al Wunder for helping me understand the power of positive feedback).

What is Charisma – and can it be taught?

If you would rather listen to me reading this post, please go to my podcast site; https://presencepodcast.libsyn.com/what-is-charisma


What is charisma?

We all want it – to be able to ‘turn it on’: to become the centre of the conversation, with people hanging on our every word, effortlessly commanding attention, respect and silence.

But what is it?

Is it something we have to be born with? Some God-given or genetic gift, some indefinable ‘quality of light’ that some have and the rest of us don’t? “You’ve either got it or you haven’t” – that’s what they say.

That’s nonsense.

It’s dishonest nonsense.

There are entire industries of people who teach communication skills, who work in the area of ‘presence’ (as I do). Drama schools and Performance Conservatories teach people to be more charismatic, to attract the eyes and ears of their audience. Those who coach public speaking and presenting skills are – in their way – training charisma.

We are all teaching people to be more charismatic – to become the sort of people who shine. If charisma is a a ‘god-given’ gift, then all of us are frauds. Are we all offering pointless and superficial techniques that have no great effect?

I think not.

How someone does something is infinitely more important than what they do. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, or how smart your ideas, if you can’t make people WANT to watch and listen to you, they won’t. That’s why so many of us train people in presence and encourage their capacity to become charismatic.

What is charisma? We have to have some kind of working definition! If we aim to train people to become more charismatic, to become more visible in the world, then we need to know what it is we’re training.


I think of it as an enhanced and focused intensification of presence.

Presence, as I’ve written elsewhere, is fundamentally the result of being attentive to, and fully aware of, the present moment – connecting with what you are doing, the activity of your mind, and who/what occupies your immediate environment.

That’s the mental foundation from which presence grows.

Charisma is a way of supercharging presence. It’s about turning the light on behind presence. Not just ‘being aware’ but becoming ‘actively engaged’ in the present moment – fascinated, excited and enthralled.

Charisma grows out of presence, but being present doesn’t necessarily make you charismatic. Charisma is built on the foundation of presence.

The great Brazilian clown, Angela de Castro, defines charisma as ‘loving being where you are’. Think about that for a moment; the charismatic person is not only present, they are loving being present. They are not only connected with what’s happening around them, they are loving being connected with what’s happening around them. They’re not only open to the conversation they’re having with you, they are totally engaged in, fascinated by and joyously focused on it – and on you! There’s no place they would rather be!

Will this do as a definition of charisma?

Charisma is not only being present, it’s knowing there’s no place else you’d rather be, no one else you’d rather be with.

In terms of our relationship with ourselves, it means – at least temporarily – being perfectly happy with who you are, in this moment, not wishing you were a different person doing things, differently.

Charisma is loving being where you are, who you are. At least for the duration of the moment you are in.

So, can it be taught?

Of course it can be taught! Any technique can be taught.

If you train people to become more present, then you can also train them to enhance that presence by engaging with the world through a lens of fascination, excitement, optimism and joy. Doing that, you will develop in them the capacity to become more charismatic.

Of course, when you teach techniques to different people, they will embody those techniques in different ways and at different levels. If you train your voice, it doesn’t mean you’re going to become the greatest singer in the world, but you will get better at using your voice. If you go to dance classes, you may never end up winning a dance competition but you will get to be a better dancer. If you train yourself in techniques of presence, and then focus on developing your charisma, you may not become Marlon Brando or Whoopi Goldberg, but you will become more present, and more charismatic.

I love Angela de Castro’s definition. She’s an extraordinary teacher, and performer. When she’s teaching, you have a real sense that there’s nothing else she’d rather be doing. She is full of passion and joy. It’s over 20 years since I trained with her, but I can still sense her presence. She imprinted herself on me. That’s charisma!

It’s not a gift from God. It’s not something you’re born with. Charisma is something you do. It’s the result of a mental attitude.

The eight Principles of Presence from which I work, lay the foundation of becoming present with yourself and with your environment. The last of the eight is the shortest of them all: ‘Pursue Pleasure’. Not ‘have fun’ – ‘Pursue Pleasure’. Hunt for it. Actively seek it. Search for your bliss, joy, enthusiasm, excitement, passion, in every moment. Not only become present – become joyously present!

There are many reasons why this principle is important, but among them is this: pleasure, joy, passion and enthusiasm are the keys to charisma.

A charismatic person is someone who wants to be exactly where they are, because there is no place and no time in the world that is more exciting to them than the moment they are in right now.

Engaging joyously in each moment is a choice. If we make it, we develop our more charismatic presence.

Charisma is not a god-given gift, it is mental discipline.

What is ‘Presence’?

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What is presence?

What does this word mean – ‘presence’?

There’s a whole industry, of which I’m part, concerned with training people in ‘presence’. There are numerous books written about it – some even called ‘Presence’! I’m writing my own book on the Eight Principles of Presence which I hope to finish and get published this year sometime.

But what do we actually mean when we use the word ‘presence’? I mean, surely if all these people, like me, are offering to train people to become more present, and are claiming that ‘being present’ and ‘having presence’ is going somehow to enhance the quality of your life or improve your capacity to achieve your dreams and objectives, surely we ought to be able to define ‘presence’?

Well, it’s not that easy. Some of the most important and fundamental things in human existence, are not easy to define. My earlier career as a teacher, director and performer, focused on ‘ensemble’. In fact, my first book, published in 2013, was called ‘Encountering Ensemble’. What is ensemble? It is an invisible connectedness between people. You cannot really quite define it – though I and all the other writers in ‘Encountering Ensemble’ tried as hard as we could to do so. Ensemble is something we all recognise when it is there, but none of us can quite define.

Love? The entire culture of the world, across national, religious and all other boundaries, is obsessed with examining aspects of love. What is love? Does he/she/it love me? Love is all you need…..

Well, you can talk about love from a anthropological point of view,. You can talk about it from an evolutionary point of view. You can talk about it from an emotional point of view. Or from a spiritual point of view. All perspectives add something to our understanding, but none are complete. Suddenly that little four-letter word love becomes very confusing and unknowably complex. Yet it remains simple. Most of us have experienced love.

The same is true of presence – which, like the connectedness of ensemble or the feeling of love, is a fundamental human experience.

There are many ways of talking about presence. One book I read recently by four academics concerned with change management in institutions, defines presence as a sort of a spiritual immersion in the interconnectedness of the ecosystem. Excellent. It’s a great book. Amy Cuddy, who wrote a really excellent book on presence, approaches it from a social-psychology point of view. Her’s is a fantastic book. Patsy Rosenberg, who, like me, comes from the world of performance, again takes a different approach. All are useful.

The word ‘presence’ is not a simple word – but one thing that’s really clear to me from my work on ensemble, and is obvious to anyone who thinks about ‘love’, is that it is not ‘a thing’. Presence is not a lump of something you can put on the table and say ‘that is presence’, just as you cannot do that with ‘ensemble’ or ‘love’.

We can consider all these ‘indefinable’ things not as physical objects but as ways of being – qualities of attention.

So we start to get closer to my definition of presence.

Presence is about being present.

Too simple? Maybe – but also undeniable.

If you want to have presence, you must be present. Presence is the quality of being that emerges from open, responsive, aware attention to the present moment. Techniques of presence – the principles and activities I teach and mentor people in – have two fundamental purposes. The first is to enable us (or remind us) to be open to each moment. The second is to encourage us to notice and reject distraction.

Distraction, is the enemy of presence. Distractions need to be resisted.

If we are distracted by thinking about something other than what is actually happening, we are not present in the moment. If we are not present in the moment, we cannot have presence. If we are not present in the moment, we do not get to react to the moment AS IT IS. Instead we react to our opinions about the moment that we’re in, or our assumptions, or our fears.

Presence might seem like a mysterious state that we achieve. It isn’t. Presence is our natural state. You’re present now. You’re always present. Presence is reality.

It’s not that we have to ‘become present’. Our work is to stop NOT being present. What stops us being present? Distraction. Our work is to notice and eradicate our tendency to get distracted. Once we are not distracted, we become present.

Training ‘presence’ is not principally about learning ‘how to do things’. Training presence is primarily a process of stopping doing things. It’s not about ‘becoming present’. It’s about ‘stopping being distracted’.

Easier said than done. Of course. But this is the journey.

Presence is our natural state. Enhancing presence is a process of opening to – and developing the confidence fearlessly to respond to – the natural reality of our moment by moment existence.

We live in presence.

Why Presence?

If you would rather listen to this post – you can find me reading it here:


You learn through experience.

In fact, the only way you learn is through experience.

Your brain – that amazing complex mess of neurons and ganglia and grey matter and synapses and hemispheres and all of that stuff – sits in the darkened box of your skull from before you are born until you die, receiving impulses and responding, receiving impulses and responding.

That’s all it does. It doesn’t ever get to go out and party in the world, it sits in the dark receiving impulses, choosing responses.

When you first come into the world, you receive all sorts of crazy impulses. To a new born baby, the world is an undifferentiated overwhelm! Your brain doesn’t know good from bad, safe from dangerous. Survival means learning the difference pretty damn quickly, so the baby brain looks for things that give it pleasure and learns to avoid things that cause it discomfort or distress.

And so begins your lifelong process of deciding between good and bad, attractive and ugly, success and failure. Through experiencing, you learn to differentiate. You also learn to anticipate.

All the experiencing, processing, deciding, responding, evaluating takes a lot of brain power. If you needed constantly to be working out exactly what is happening around you, and choosing the appropriate response, it would mean your brain had pretty much no time for any other activity. So the brain creates shortcuts.

You know the sort of thing. It sees a chair. It doesn’t think: ‘Wow, what’s that strange shaped thing with four legs? Is it a tiger? What am I meant to do? Is it about to attack me?’ Instead it thinks: ‘It’s a chair’, and it tells the legs to start bending in preparation for sitting.

See a chair, sit down. Not – see a chair, wonder what it is, try to work it out, turn it upside down etc etc etc.

No – see a chair, sit down.

Of course, sometimes you might sit on a chair and discover that one of the legs is a little bit wobbly. As you sit and give your weight to the chair, it starts to collapse beneath you. Immediately your brain goes ‘Woah!!!!’ Immediately it sends a radically different set of instructions to your legs (and hips and face muscles and possibly your voice too, as you cry out in alarm).

Unexpected information has entered the dark space of your skull. The brain realises this is not the same-old-sitting-on-a-chair experience it anticipated. This is something new – the wobbly chair-experience. New stimuli means new responses are required!

The brain kicks into action to save you from disaster because that’s really what the brain’s function is – to save you from disaster, to keep you safe. In fact, that’s the brains only function to keep you safe (and to pass on your genes to the next generation).

However, in the absence of some sudden, immediate and unexpected detail demanding its attention, the brain just does things the way it has always done them. It anticipates how things will go based on what it has learned in the past, and so follows well-worn, habitual ways of doing things.

Anticipated impulse. Habitual response.

The brain has a low threshold for defining success. It thinks: ‘Did we survive? Are we safe?’ If the answer is yes, the brain is satisfied with a job-well-done and it turns it’s attention elsewhere – often to passing on its genes. The chair may not be the most comfortable or in the best part of the room but the brain doesn’t care that much. As long as you’re not in danger, the brain is happy to turn its attention elsewhere, scanning for other threats.

You do not change how you respond to some event (like seeing a chair) unless you discover that a new response is necessary, or at least possible.

Sometimes you have a new response forced on you (such as with the wobbly chair leg). Sometimes however, you can choose to change.

It is this possibility of choice that lies at the heart of personal growth and development.

Sometimes you feel you need to ‘unlearn’ some things – unlearn your habits. You can’t really do that. You can’t really unlearn something you’ve learned. It’s in your head. It’s part of you. You can’t pretend something didn’t happen.

Rather than thinking of unlearning you need to think of new learning. How do you learn new things? Same way as you learn all things – you have new experiences. New learning comes from new experiences.

To change means to learn something new. To learn something new requires new experiences to learn from.

Instead of doing things habitually, you can decide to pay active attention to what is going on around you. You can choose actively to notice how an experience you are having is different to previous experiences. You can treat experiences as if they are new, and so create new reactions and responses from your brain.

New experiences, new lessons.

This is the heart of effective and healthy learning – the creation of new experiences from which you can learn. Sometimes that means doing new things, sometimes doing familiar things in new ways or with new attitudes.

Another way of saying that is that the heart of personal and professional development, is enhancing a capacity to create for yourself healthy learning experiences. In doing that you can ‘overwrite’ (or evolve) less healthy learning experiences you have accumulated in the past. You can replace unhealthy or perhaps obsolete ways of acting, thinking and responding, with healthier, more effective and more up to date ways of acting, thinking and responding. You can create lessons and behaviours based in the present – based on who you are now and who you aspire to be, not on who you were once told you had to be, or who you were moulded to become decades ago.

If you want to have experiences in the present, to create new learning and so to change, then you have to be in the present.

That is why the heart of all effective learning is presence. If you want to grow, you must be present.

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