Pagan Leadership: Community Building, Facilitation, and Personal Growth

Do you want healthier Pagan communities? Explore tools, techniques, and ideas for Pagan leadership and community building, facilitation skills for meetings, rituals, and workshops, and the personal and spiritual work that underlies all of this and that is crucial if we want to build stronger, healthier, more sustainable groups.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Effective Feedback: Giving and Receiving (Part 2)

Any leader or rituallist is going to get feedback. In Part 1, I addressed some methods to discern what feedback is useful and what isn't. It's also important to learn how to give good feedback, which is what I'll go into here.

While I love hearing, "That ritual was great!" what this primarily tells me is that this person (or the people telling me this) had a good time. It’s not, however, specific. “I loved the chanting!” or, "I've never experienced a ritual like that, I was able to connect to my ancestors in a way I couldn't ever before," is more specific and thus, more useful. 

I've facilitated rituals where I had an equal number of people tell me, "The energy in that ritual was great!" and, "The energy tonight really kind of sucked." So what makes good feedback?

Good feedback is clear. Sometimes, like with energy in ritual, it can be difficult to put things into words. But, some specifics that can help are, "The drumming was speeding up too fast," or "The drumming and the chanting were off beat with one another," or, "When the fire got smoky it was hard to sing the energy chant," are all really specifically useful pieces of feedback. “Some guy was texting during ritual,” or, “There were attendees who were really drunk,” can be more clear clues as to why some people may have not have had a positive experience of the ritual energy.

"I was bored" is perhaps honest, but “I couldn’t hear the facilitators” is far more useful feedback. In fact--that's one of the most common pieces of feedback I would offer to most ritualists.

Context and Perspective
Good feedback also takes into account one's own context and perspective. For instance, "The energy sucked," isn't as useful as, "I'm used to much more up-beat seasonal rituals, and this ritual was too dark and transformative for me." That's fair. The converse can be true. "I really enjoy rituals with depth, and this ritual was a little too lighthearted for me." Or, "I'm not used to singing, I didn't like all the singing in the ritual." "I really didn't like the energy, I felt there should have been drumming." "That chant didn't work for me, it only mentioned the Goddess and wasn't gender diverse." 

“I have bad knees and I can’t stand for that long,” or “It was 95 degrees out and we weren’t in the shade,” are also clear things that would impact someone’s experience of the ritual, and are actionable things that a ritualist can take into account the next time. It doesn’t matter how awesome your ritual plan is, if people are getting sunburn during your ritual, they aren’t going to have a positive memory of it.

There are a lot of ritual styles that don't work for me. It doesn't mean they are "bad" just that they aren't my thing. It's also worth pointing out that facilitating a ritual at a week-long intensive is vastly different from a ritual at a day-long Pagan Pride Day event. When people attend one of my Pride Day rituals and offer feedback that it didn't go as deep as the ritual at ___ event, I can generally toss that feedback into the "Don't need to worry overmuch about it" pile because I know there is no way that a 45 minute ritual in a public park with people watching us is going to be able to go into the same depths as that ritual in the darkness around the fire where we had the time and privacy to sing and dance and connect to the deep within. 

Ask Consent to Offer Feedback
It's generally a good practice to ask if someone's open to feedback before offering it. There are exceptions to this, and any group leader or ritualist knows you're going to get feedback whether or not you want it. It is, however, polite to ask if the person's open to that feedback right now. Meaning, if someone wants to tell me about some typos in my Ritual Facilitation book right after I've just taught a class and people are standing in line to talk to me or buy some of my books, that's really not the best time. It's not that I'm not open to hearing about it--I absolutely am. But if the person said, "Hey, I have some feedback on your books, are you interested?" I could say, "I am, can I talk to these five folks first and talk to you after? Or, can we grab lunch?" Or whatever works best in that instance.

The most useful feedback I receive is I-referenced, meaning, it speaks from one person's experience, vs. using "we" statements. When someone comes to me and says, "We felt really shut out during that ritual," but there is only one person saying that, it feels like the person is bulking up their own opinion by assigning some kind of faction to it. It's a really common thing that people do, however, when I hear "we" if there's only one person speaking to me, I am more likely to wonder why the person needed to say "we" instead of "I" when I'm listening to the feedback.

 "I didn't enjoy that ritual, it brought up XYZ for me," is genuine and I can hear that. "People were traumatized" isn't as useful. 

I want to return to the point of clarity in feedback. In Part 1, I mentioned a blog post offering a negative review of the ritual that I led. The writer mentioned that my ritual was very rooted in the gender binary.

Given that over the past years I've worked hard to move my ritual design away from the gender binary model and be more inclusive for people of all sexualities and all genders, my instinctive response was, "No! That can't be true, I've worked too hard." And then my next emotional response was, "What if I have failed at this?" However, this piece of feedback wasn't specific enough to be useful to me. If the person writing it had mentioned, "Shauna kept saying 'men and women' during the ritual," or if the they had said, "The ritual was designed using XYZ concept of the Underworld and divine, which enforces the gender binary by ABC," that would have been something actionable on my part.

Given that many transgender and gender binary ritual participants have thanked me over the years for how my rituals aren't stuck in the gender binary, and given that I know I didn't say "men and women" or refer to any gods/deities by any specific gender within the ritual, I'm at a loss for what the actual problem was.

Thus, the more specific you can be about the actual physical things that were happening, the more useful your feedback will be.

I was "talking shop" about the ritual with another ritual facilitator skilled in ecstatic rituals, and she shared some of her own feedback with me. It was far easier to work with her feedback because 1. She was specific, and 2. She understood the extreme constraints of trying to facilitate a moving, ecstatic experience for 200 people who've never done work together, in a 90 minute time span. 

Her feedback was that she's used to rituals in the ecstatic style that go into more depth and where we're able to use more advanced chanting/musical techniques. In this particular context, she understood that that type of depth wasn't possible given the setup and time constraints, but her feedback was specific and we were able to have a great conversation about it.

Leadership Feedback
There's a tool I've used that comes from my training in Nonviolent Communication that is especially useful for feedback. It works a little better for feedback on general leadership behavior vs. rituals. The basic model is, "When you engage in XYZ behavior, the impact on me is ABC. Is that the impact you want to have?"

An example might be something someone could say to me: "When you drop the ball on a project, like when you failed to meet the deadline to get ___ to me, the impact on me is that I have to scramble to get ____ done. This means that I'm stressed out, I'm tired the next day, and I don't trust you to get ___ to me and I don't feel comfortable working with you again. Is this the impact you want to have?"

The answer to that is, no! That's not the impact I want to have. In my case, feedback has led me to saying "no" to projects earlier on so that I can reduce the number of situations where I am in the position of being the bottleneck. 

Assumptions for Feelings and Motivations
What makes for poor feedback of any type is when you make assumptions for someone else's feelings or motivations. The person who wrote the blog post about my ritual at Paganicon went so far as to say that the design of the ritual was based in my own distress and insecurities, which is making a pretty big assumption. The author went on to making some incorrect assumptions about my intentions for several of the ritual logistics.

While the post has inspired me to write a future article on the challenges of facilitating public and festival rituals for large groups in short time slots, the assumptions were inaccurate.

I lean on I-referencing for feedback whenever possible. Keep in mind, just because something is an I statement does not mean it's an I reference. "I think that you're a jerk" isn't an I reference. You-statements are almost always assigning motivations. "You didn't respond to my email, you don't respect me at all!" assigns a motivation to the other party. "You didn't respond to my email, and because I needed your response before I could take the next steps, our group missed out on XYZ opportunity. I was hurt and frustrated by this," is an I-reference. 

Going back to the physical reality of what happened, "You didn't respond to my email," or, "You host rituals in a space I can't get to without a car," or, "You use so much singing in your rituals I can't engage in them," are all valid feedback statements because they offer physical reality without assigning motivation. 

Feedback and Healthy Community
A lot of feedback ends up being about expectations and assumptions. Or more accurately, expectations and assumptions that we never bothered to communicate. Before offering feedback, consider your own expectations. Are you assuming the person knows something that they perhaps don't? If you're receiving feedback, consider the expectations that person might have based on other events or groups they've been part of. 

Let's stop looking at any negative feedback as an attack, and instead learn the discernment to weigh the usefulness of the feedback we receive, or discern whether or not it's necessary to offer a critique.

If "that ritual sucked" actually was, "I came into that ritual with a bad mood, and most folks seemed to be having a good time but I was in a bad headspace," then we don't need to bother the ritual facilitator with that. That's our own baggage, not theirs.

However, "You were leading a chant that was so complicated I couldn't sing it," is really useful feedback for a facilitator.

Offering useful feedback is crucial for sustainable communities, effective rituals, and healthy leaders. Let's continue learning tools and techniques to offer feedback (and learning how to accept feedback, or discern what feedback to discard) to continue building healthy groups.

Feedback Series:
Giving and Receiving Effective Feedback Part 1
Giving and Receiving Effective Feedback Part 2


Facilitating an Effective Feedback Session Part 1
Facilitating an Effective Feedback Session Part 2
Facilitating an Effective Feedback Session Part 3

Last modified on
An artist, author, ritualist, presenter, and spiritual seeker, Shauna travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and personal growth. She is the author of The Leader Within, Ritual Facilitation, and Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path. She’s a columnist on ritual techniques for Circle Magazine, and her writing also appears in several anthologies. She’s also the author of several fantasy and paranormal romance novels. Her mythic artwork and designs are used for magazine covers, book covers, and illustrations, as well as decorating many walls, shrines, and other spaces. Shauna is passionate about creating rituals, experiences, spaces, stories, and artwork to awaken mythic imagination.  


Additional information