Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 2: Bringing the Vision to Life

I’ve been involved in Scouting for more than 20 years, and I love trivia.

At Wood Badge, those two forces collided, resulting in one giant, flaming ball of disappointment and public shame.

I don’t want to say too much and spoil a Wood Badge surprise, but let’s just say that my Scouting knowledge was put to the test at the weeklong course last month. In fact, it was our whole patrol’s BSA proficiency on the line, but I spoke up more than I should’ve.

“I work for the BSA,” I thought to myself. “I got this.”

Turns out I was wrong. Three times in a row. Each time I pressed my luck, all I got was another whammy.

From that I learned I have a lot to learn — about the BSA, about myself, and about the right way to receive negative feedback.

In that failure, I realized what the staff meant when they had explained the day before that “feedback is a gift.” The feedback wasn’t positive this time, but I learned that responding with defensiveness — my fallback approach — would only cloud my ability to accept the gift of constructive criticism.

Chalk it up as another way Wood Badge changed me for the better.

Today’s topic: Bringing the Vision to Life. I’ll discuss the importance of listening and of giving and receiving feedback. Then I’ll share a couple of examples of times when communication worked — and didn’t work — in my Wood Badge patrol.

It’s the second installment of my Wood Badge Wednesdays series, which, as Chad correctly guessed last week, is one of my ticket items. (I’ll share the other four in a my final Wood Badge Wednesdays post.) 

Listening to Learn

Have you ever had a boss who needed leadership training just as much as you? In college, I had a supervisor who really could’ve used a week at Wood Badge.

For this guy, even just attending one session — the one on “Listening to Learn” — would’ve done wonders.

I worked at Target, and whenever I approached my boss with a problem, he would just stare at me. Now this wasn’t the quiet, understanding gaze of someone actively engaged in what you’re saying.

It was more like my face was a 90’s Magic Eye painting, and he was trying look right through me to get the hidden message.

No nodding, no encouraging “uh-huh,” nothing but a blank stare. It grated on me.

If you’ve ever had a fellow Scouter, a coworker, or a family member who is listening-challenged, you know how frustrating this can be.

And you know the power of active, engaged, empathetic listening can’t be understated.

That’s why the Wood Badge session on Listening to Learn resonated with me. Ever since I quit Target, I’ve been fortunate to have bosses who understand that listening is our primary means of communicating, solving problems, and making decisions.

By emulating those great communicators, I’ve tried to enhance my own ability to listen.

Effective communication, as our troop guide Jacquelyn explained, is broken down into two parts: Active and Empathetic.

  • Active listening reflects what a person is saying to confirm comprehension. By rephrasing the message and bouncing it back to the speaker, the listener confirms that the information has been properly received.
  • Empathetic listening goes one step further, requiring listeners to:
    • Put themselves in the speaker’s shoes.
    • Imagine things from the speaker’s viewpoint.
    • Understand how the speaker feels.

The next time someone approaches you to talk, don’t be my boss from Target.

Instead, take a quick second to assess your listening situation. If you’re tired, cold, late for another appointment, or just downright uninterested, acknowledge that to yourself and ensure your disconnectedness doesn’t show through.

By being aware of those communication restraints, you can suppress the less-than-ideal situation and begin listening actively and empathetically. Give it a try!

Giving and receiving feedback

Anyone can give positive, superficial feedback.

Comments like “good job today” are nice to say, but they’re the cotton candy of the feedback world. They aren’t very filling, and too much of them will rot your teeth.

Instead, here’s a few things Wood Badge-trained feedback-givers do:

  • Deal only with behavior that can be changed. Otherwise, what’s the point?
    • “The way you’re washing those dishes isn’t the way we learned at the troop meeting.”
  • Describe the behavior — don’t evaluate it.
    • “You’re not using hot water in any of the wash buckets” instead of “This is wrong, all wrong!”
  • Let the other person know the impact the behavior has on you.
    • “I’m really concerned that this approach will get you and your patrolmates sick.”
  • Use an “I” statement to accept responsibility for your own perceptions and emotions.
    • “The way I’ve washed pots and pans in the past is like this …”
  • Ask the other person to rephrase what they heard you say. That’ll ensure they understood your message.
    • “Can you repeat back to me what I said before taking it to your patrol?”
  • Show you care. A slick delivery won’t hide the fact that you don’t.

OK, so you can dish it out, but how do you handle feedback delivered in your direction?

For me, learning I had given the wrong answers to BSA questions three times in a row was a pretty clear message: Think before you speak.

Scenario time. Let’s say a parent comes up to you after a troop meeting, furious that her son wasn’t selected as the next Senior Patrol Leader. Before you immediately go on the defensive, consider these tips for receiving feedback:

  • Listen carefully. Be willing to accept what’s coming with open ears and without prejudging the person.
  • Listen actively. This is where you restate in your own words what the parent said. (Try not to do it sarcastically, OK?)
  • Listen empathetically. Consider the speaker’s reasons for offering the feedback, and assess her body language to see the hidden message.
  • Notice how you’re feeling. If you’re angry or defensive, that’s natural. Just try not to let it show.

Communication in my Wood Badge patrol

Most of the time spent with my fellow Owls was a hoot! (I know, I know.)

But there was one time when the Owls didn’t all see eye to eye. Again, without spoiling anything, I’ll just say we were given a problem that had multiple solutions. When it dawned on us to bend the rules and take a shortcut to solving that problem, the tension level rose.

Not everyone in the group agreed with the rule-bending approach, and these individuals shared their displeasure with the group.

With time constraints looming (“Two minutes!”), we weren’t in the best environment for communication.

In the end, though, it worked out fine. I give credit to Dave, Jeff, and Jim especially. The three weren’t on the same side of the issue, but they succeeded in casting the conversation in a positive light. I encourage you add the same positive spin by monitoring your body language, showing empathy, and even cracking a joke to lighten the mood.

I’ll talk more about team development on a future Wednesday, but without listening and feedback skills, our team wouldn’t have made it past the “Forming” stage.

For the Owls, even with multiple Type-A personalities in our group, each of us managed to “shut up” long enough to listen.

Once that happened, we really soared.

Feedback welcome

What do you like about these Wood Badge Wednesday posts? What isn’t working? I haven’t written the other three posts, so there’s time to make them better with your help. Your feedback is welcome — both positive and negative. Don’t worry; I can take it.


Wood Badge Wednesdays

This is Part 2 of a five-part series called Wood Badge Wednesdays. Here’s the schedule for the entire series; each week I’ll explore one of the five central themes of Wood Badge for the 21st Century:

  1. Living the Values (Sept. 12)
  2. Bringing the Vision to Life (This post)
  3. Models for Success (Sept. 26)
  4. Tools of the Trade
  5. Leading to Make a Difference (Oct. 24)

It’s Your Move

Ready to take Wood Badge for yourself? Start by contacting your local council to learn how.

You’ll either take a weeklong course, like I did, or a course that spans two nonconsecutive weekends. Either way, you’re in for the time of your life!

Anyone from any council also has the opportunity to sign up for Circle Ten Council’s Wood Badge course at Philmont. The next course is held in August 2013 at Scouting’s paradise in New Mexico. The course Web site isn’t up yet, but here’s the placeholder link to keep on your radar.

About Bryan Wendell 2869 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.