Training Tips for Positive Feedback
Feedback closes the learning circle:
for both the trainer and the student.
For the trainer, it is important to receive feedback to make sure that their training is being understood, that it is meeting the student’s requirements, and is being delivered effectively.
For the student, it is important to receive feedback to reinforce the learning they receive, to build confidence as they move forward, and to deepen their understanding of the subject.
Feedback is therefore a very important part of the learning process and trainers need to learn why, how, and when to give feedback. They also need to learn how to handle feedback that is given to them by their students, which might not always be delivered in the most constructive manner, which means they need to learn to accept feedback that may not be given to them with the same tact and subtlety with which they need to give feedback to their students!
10 tips for feedback
Why do we give feedback?
We can offer feedback to a student to guide them in a certain direction. What they are doing may not be leading to the result that they want and so a little piece of gentle feedback may cause them to think again.
For instance, if a student is inclined to try to rectify a situation by criticising a colleague’s actions, the trainer might want to suggest that a little less criticism and a little more encouragement might work better.
We can offer feedback to suggest an improvement:
‘What you are doing is very good. It might be even better if you tried this.’
But the main reason to offer feedback is in order to offer encouragement. If the feedback given is too severe or over-critical, it might demoralise rather than encourage.
This means we need to learn to gauge the level of feedback we need to offer.
Some students want to know straight, but most actually just need support and reassurance.
If as a result of the feedback received, a student gives up on a task, the feedback was probably too strong.
When do we give feedback?
When the student is listening! On one level that is fairly obvious, but sometimes just after a student has failed (or at least if they feel they have failed) at a task, they may not be in a fit state to listen to any helpful suggestions. I remember as a cellist delivering an appalling performance. I was so upset and angry with myself that I was not able to listen to ‘what I should do next time’. If my cello professor had left it for a few days until I had calmed down, I might have been in a better frame of mind.
However, this is only a possible tactic if we know we will have the opportunity to see the student again at a later date. If the training programme is set over a short timeframe and there is no later opportunity to offer feedback, we need to decide whether to give the advice anyway or maybe will could decide not to give any advice at all, as it might cause even greater distress.
How do we give feedback?
There are many formulas for giving feedback, which bring its own problems as feedback that feels too formulaic, might feel a bit automatic and not feel genuine or sincere.
Above all else feedback must be calculated to bring improvement.
If your feedback is not going to improve the situation, there is little point in giving it, therefore there needs to be a positive uplifting tone to feedback.
I remember a member of a speaker’s club that gave very good feedback, but it always felt weighted towards the negative: ‘That was not very good, that could have been better, there was not enough of that’, which although accurate usually left the recipient feeling squashed.
On the other hand, I sometimes have students who are very keen immediately to know everything that they need to improve, in which case I might be a little more direct.
Although we want the feedback to be positive, it must not be vague. Even praise should be specific!
It is very easy to fall into the trap of saying bland generalities:
‘You are really good. Well done, you look very confident.’ - or
‘You seem a little unsure or a little nervous.’
Whether we are offering praise or offering a point of improvement, it should be specific:
‘Your use of supportive gestures was particularly good in making you come across as confident.’
‘When you shuffle from foot to foot, you might come across as a little nervous or unsure, so try standing equally on both feet when you speak and that way you will look more confident.’
We all want to feel we are improving, so if you can offer feedback that suggests an improvement from a previous attempt it will be very well received and will encourage further improvement.
Be lavish with praise
Dale Carnegie in his famous book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ talked about ‘be lavish with your praise’. He suggested offering points of improvement as ‘little’ steps, while being expansive of the good points, for instance one might say:
‘I love the way you do that and that was excellent. One small thing to think about though for next time…’
Get them to feedback on themselves
If the students can feedback on themselves, the feedback will not feel so intrusive. Often when students feedback on themselves they are much more severe and self-critical than the trainer would be. This gives the trainer the opportunity to soften the criticism and be more supportive.
If the students feedback on themselves it allows the trainer to find out how much they understand and where their focus is and of course, if the student initiates the feedback the points of improvement will come out of a two-way discussion and are less likely to feel judgemental.
Literally, think about where you are positioned in relation to the student. Are you standing while they are seated and looking down on them? Does your position seem threatening or overbearing? When I was working with school students in Public Speaking I wanted to build up their confidence and self-belief and standing over them like an imposing teacher instructing them on what they did wrong could feel overbearing. Therefore I literally spent a lot of my time sitting on the floor with them, so that both visually and verbally, the advice I was offering felt less like instructing and more like sharing.
And a couple for the trainer
Always gather feedback and keep it. By looking over a few feedback forms, the trainer might notice some patterns emerging that might not otherwise be so obvious to spot. If over a period of time, two or three students make a similar observation, there may be something that the trainer needs to address. The comments may be about the trainer’s apparent behaviour or attitude; without being aware of it the trainer may come across as stern or dismissive. The comments may be about the content of the training: too hard, too easy, not relevant. The comments could also give a clue to the trainer about the student’s state of mind: overwhelmed, demoralised, and under-confident.
Don’t take feedback personally
Bite your tongue; put an imaginary pencil in your mouth; anything to stop you from justifying yourself and becoming defensive – or even worse, aggressive. Students may not always give you feedback in a calm objective manner, but you never want to get into an argument. Listen, thank them, and then maybe later you can ask yourself whether there was a grain of truth in there that you should consider.