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The Power of Gift Seats for Giving Feedback

Giving and receiving effective feedback is an essential practice of every leader. When approached thoughtfully, it can accelerate learning and growth. 

Of course, the best feedback is rarely easy. Whether conscious or not, we all live with “mental models,” or stories we tell ourselves about the world and who we are in relation to it. Hearing about ourselves from another perspective is likely to challenge those models, inviting some degree of change in our daily approach.

How Can Gift Seats Enhance Feedback?

One way to offer feedback is through “gift seats,” which allows for verbal, peer-to-peer sharing. The process is simple:

1. Gather in a small group of at least two people (ideally, people who have worked closely together).

2. The individual “in the gift seat” asks questions from the group. The amount of time each person has to ask questions should be determined based on the overall time available and size of the group.

3. The individual does not respond to their teammates’ answers, except to say “thank you.”

At the end of the session, the group should take a moment to reflect on the gift seat process. How was it different to receive feedback in this way compared to other approaches? Are any action commitments emerging from the exercise?

What Are Examples of Gift Seat Questions?

Gift seat questions should be unique to each team, but common ones include:

  • What do you find enjoyable about working with me?
  • What makes me a good [position title]?
  • What are the strengths I bring to the team?
  • How could I improve the way we work as a team?
  • What about working with me do you find challenging?
  • Is there anything you would like to share about me that you don’t think I realize about myself (positive or negative)?

Grow in a Cohort of Emerging Leaders

In our 10-month AmeriCorps apprenticeship, Public Allies offers an experiential journey of self-discovery and professional development. Every Public Allies member develops skills in giving and receiving feedback, including the gift seats approach. Join us.