Capoeira Says It and Hears It, We all live it

**The following is a post about our third Training Seminar in Brazil.

How would you get a group of young people excited about giving and receiving feedback?

Capoiera Angola. Yes, Capoiera Angola. That was how Wes got the Fellows excited about learning how to give and receive feedback.

Before providing a formal introduction to the “Giving and Receiving Feedback” module, Wes, the Program Director for Brazil, asked for a volunteer to join him in the center of our group’s circle to embody the module exercise without words, utilizing movements that they had learned during Orientation in September. Annie graciously and enthusiastically accepted the challenge and mirrored Wes in Cocorinha, the common starting point for players to enter the liminal space known at the “Roda” (pronounced, Ho-da). In simple but clear terms, Wes guided Annie and the rest of the group through a sequence of movements within the Capoiera Angola vocabulary in which he and Annie twisted, turned, and ducked, advancing and retreating in tandem, without undermining the balance or center of the opponent, simply forcing the other to react in a way that acknowledged the other’s movements and generating an energy that was greater than the sum of its parts.

This is precisely how you excite a group of Global Citizen Year Fellows in Brazil about learning how to be effective at giving and receiving feedback. You make it real. You make it relevant. You make them relate.

Before Wes and I began facilitating the Training Seminar this weekend, I was slightly nervous about how the “Giving and Receiving Feedback” module would go. Giving and receiving feedback is a critical skill that better positions us for college, work, and life; but it can be so hard for so many people. To receive feedback is to open yourself to the possibility of hearing things that you don’t expect and that are somehow tied to the deepest parts of who you are. That can be scary. To give feedback also requires a lot of courage and talent – to be able to say what you really think even if it means exposing a weakness of someone for whom you deeply care, while saying it in a way that demonstrates compassion and understanding.

To be sure, I am usually in Ecuador. As the Director of the Global Citizen Year Program in Ecuador, I generally am co-facilitating training seminars with our Team Leaders – Andy Gavilanes and María Cristina Silva – in Ecuador. However, this time around, I had the amazing opportunity to join my colleague and peer, Wes, as a co-leader of the Training Seminar in Brazil. I traveled to Brazil in order to learn from Wes, given his extensive experience in facilitating youth development in many parts of the world, and to understand the Brazilian context, a context that is so rich, complex, and different from Ecuador. What I didn’t realize when I got on the plane last week to come to Brazil was that, thanks to Wes, the Brazil Fellows, and Brazil, I, too, would leave this trip with new skills and insights on how to be more effective at giving and receiving feedback as a means for personal and professional growth.

After Wes’ authentic introduction to the session, our job was so easy and so meaningful. We used a format, called “Straight Talk,” developed by The Food Project, an organization based out of Boston, Massachusetts that engages young people in personal and social change through sustainable agriculture. The Food Project offers a set of “rules” or guidelines for giving and receiving feedback that has proven valuable in providing a productive and respectful structure for young people and adults to be constructive partners in the personal and professional development of themselves and others. The Straight Talk rules clarify how to “Say it!” (give feedback) and “Hear it!” (receive feedback) in a style that resonated strongly with the Fellows’ personal experiences.

For example, one rule on how to say it:

Be kind. Your intention in Straight Talk is to contribute to your team and to each individual member. Contributions that make a difference require thoughtfulness, care, and kindness. Only if you deliver your message with these qualities can someone else hear it. Speak to others the way you hope they will speak to you when it is your turn to receive Straight Talk. (p. 46 Growing Together)

A rule on how to receive feedback:


Open Up. Use receiving Straight Talk as an opportunity to learn more about who you are through the eyes of others. Self-knowledge gives you power, and often other people are the key to learning more about yourself. Remaining open while receiving Straight Talk is not easy for anyone. Notice if you begin shutting down. Try not to get defensive; it only distracts you and stops your learning.

As we read the guidelines out loud as a group, there were lots of “uh huhs,” “this is amazing,” and “yes!” simply because the terms of this game – giving and receiving feedback – had been laid out in a way that was real, relevant, and easy to relate to. We discussed and digested the rules, one by one, and, then, the Fellows paired up for a session of one-on-one Straight Talk. Given the Fellows’ comments and attitudes during that module, I was not surprised that it received some of the highest marks on the final evaluations.

Notably, the session was also relevant for Wes and me. Throughout the week together, we have been able to share ideas on teaching and facilitating, program design, management, and other aspects of directing a Global Citizen Year program. The Straight Talk rules reinforced our commitment to speak honestly and constructively with one another, in order to come up with better and new ideas for improving the Global Citizen Year experience, while also respecting the uniqueness of our respective programs and national contexts. For example, we discussed the best strategies for finding new apprenticeship hosts and host families through our strongest current partners, as well as how to reinforce the Fellow cohorts in specific regions within each country. We also shared our experiences building our staff teams and coordinating initiatives across country programs and with the San Francisco home office. Like in a capoeira roda, we exchanged ideas, advancing some and retreating from others, without undermining the balance or center of the other, simply forcing the other to react in a way that acknowledged the other’s perspectives and actions, while generating an energy and vision that were greater than those with which we had come the week before.

Thanks to the combination of Capoiera Angola, my Straight Talk sessions with Wes and the Fellows, and Brazil, I can now see that, effectively, great people, great teams, and great programs are all built through similar processes of giving and receiving, the back and forth and exchange of ideas, especially those that force us to reflect deeply and be constructive and creative in moving forward.