Why it's a bad idea to say 'shut up'

21 - 02 - 2017

Well, it was different…

I was twenty-something. A student. Participating in an exchange programme with the UK. The closing event of the programme consisted of presentations by each attending student. Foreseeing fifteen tiresome presentations (on occupational reintegration of psychiatric patients) and wanting to stand out, I came up with an alternative approach. Instead of giving a boring presentation, I would entertain my fellow students with a role play in which they would participate and thus experience my research. So, I did. At my request, they pretended to be working in a kitchen, on a farm or in a shop.

Afterwards, I asked for feedback. “Well, it was different,” one of the students said, upon which the others nodded. I was delighted. No commonplace presentation for me, but something they would remember.

And I am sure they did! It took me a couple of years to find out that “different” was not a compliment, but a diplomatic, typically British way of saying it was crap. And maybe they were right. My ‘presentation’ was mainly form and it lacked content as well as a clear goal. That was my first experience in receiving professional feedback in an international context.


Shut up

Nowadays, I deliver trainings in English more often, and I am still learning about cultural differences. The other day, in a training on knowledge transfer, I was explaining that PowerPoint should be supportive, not dominating. My advice was to put keywords on your slides, instead of a lot of text. But if you do cram your slide with text, at least don’t read it aloud, because people often read faster than you can talk. “You’d better shut up then” I told the group. At that moment, a Syrian guy interrupted me and said he felt quite offended by this guidance. Immediately, I realised my error. Whereas I can say things like ‘shut up’ in Dutch with no offense taken by the participants, it was something else in an international group with people from different cultural backgrounds. I apologised for being rude, explained what I meant and thanked the Syrian guy who had offered me an opportunity to learn. 


Feedback Cards

Sometimes you will receive spontaneous feedback, at other times you might want to ask for it. To help others (and myself!) in this, I published the game Feedback Cards. The goal of this game is to practice giving and receiving feedback, in a fun way. It is a different approach to feedback you could say. That is, a Dutch ‘different’ (meaning entertaining), not a British ‘different’ I hope… But, see for yourself and let me know how you like them.