The Gifting Circle:
A Feedback Process That Feels Good

guest post by Diana Leafe Christian

This process, introduced to the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) by Paul DeLapa, is based on the idea that feedback of any kind is a gift, and it’s all good. It’s an opportunity for people to not only give thanks and appreciation, but also to share concerns they’ve been withholding, or address situations that they want to clear up. Doing so ritually, like this, with everyone doing it at the same time, seems to make giving and receiving feedback easier. And obviously, the more skilled the actual language used—telling real feelings, using “I” messages, using neutral language in describing each other’s behavior—the better the feedback is received.

Everyone sits in a large circle in a big room, but with some space between the chairs for sound privacy. Soft music plays in the background to help set the mood of respect and sacredness, and to give more sound privacy. Candles and any of the group’s ritual objects are placed in the center, with the intention of creating an honored, safe, and friendly atmosphere. A large poster displays the following four statements.

  1. “Something I appreciate about you is __________.”
  2. (Optional) “Something that is (or has been) challenging for me with you is ______________.”
  3. “Something I know about myself is ________________.”
  4. “Thank you for listening.”

Each person chooses a small object to place in front of them on the floor. It can be a special stone, or just their wallet or keys. It serves as the signal, “I’m available to listen.”

The Gifting Circle involves Givers (speakers), Receivers (listeners), and Gifts (the feedback). When it begins, each person willing to hear feedback at that point places their object in front of them on the floor. Anyone who wants to give feedback crosses to someone who has their object on the floor, and sits, kneels, or crouches before them. This is a simultaneous process, so many people will be going to and from other people in the circle.

The Giver picks up the seated Receiver’s object and hands it to them as a symbol of the Gift they’re about to give. Some facilitators suggest that the object be handed to the Receiver with both hands, and the Receiver take the object with both cupped hands, as a physical reminder that the feedback is a gift. The Giver whispers or in a low voice makes the four statements to the Receiver. The statement about what may be challenging for the Giver about the Receiver is optional. The Giver may not want to talk about such challenges at that moment, or there may be no challenging situations—the Giver may simply want to give the Receiver appreciation and acknowledgement. (Note: This process is as much for sharing appreciation as it is giving critical feedback.) The “something I know about myself” statement invites the kind of intimacy that arises when people freely reveal something about themselves to another. The four statements are meant to be heard only by the Receiver, and not audible to anyone else.

The Receiver just listens. When the Giver is finished, the Receiver doesn’t respond but simply says, “Thank you.” The Giver returns to his or her seat. The Giver can put their object on the floor and become a potential Receiver, or go to a different person with another feedback Gift.

The Receiver may put their object on the floor again, meaning “I’m open to receiving more feedback.” Or they may continue holding the object and just sit there for awhile, feeling what they feel and considering the feedback. This gives the Receiver control over how much, and how often they receive feedback, which seems to increase willingness and tolerance for hearing it. Or the Receiver can put the object on their chair and become a Giver, giving feedback to someone else in the circle. Anyone who wants to respond to what the Giver said can do so later, if they wish.

It’s suggested that people pause a bit for silence and contemplation between the actions of giving or receiving. People will be constantly changing roles, crossing back and forth across the circle as they decide to give feedback, or to remain where they are and receive it (or not). The facilitator is available to explain the process again, or clarify any misunderstandings. The facilitator rings a chime five minutes before the end of the session, and again at the end. (Once the group knows the process well, the facilitator’s role can be eliminated and someone can serve as timekeeper.)

The group can, if it wishes, evaluate the process at the end, but only the process, not anyone’s content. The Gifting Circle seems to generate as many loving expressions of appreciation as it does expression of concern and requests for change. There is usually a hushed atmosphere during the process, and often, smiles, tears, and long hugs.

This article by Diana Christian posted with permission from the author.