Most of us have the basics of training down pat: Identify the behavior we want to change, demonstrate the right and wrong ways to perform the behavior, and ask the trainees to illustrate their new skill. But something almost all trainers struggle with? That next step: effective feedback.
Feedback is the bridge between training and implementation. It’s what turns instructions into productive, applicable lessons. Without constructive feedback, training falls flat, because the learners don’t truly understand how to perform the trained actions. A successful trainer not only hosts a training but observes the trainees in action to point out and alleviate the flaws in their implementation.
Unfortunately, offering effective feedback isn’t as easy as it sounds. One of the greatest obstacles is your own perspective on feedback. We know there’s discomfort associated with the act of offering feedback – it’s never easy to hear you’re wrong, and it can be even more difficult to say that someone else is wrong – but it’s in that discomfort that your trainees (and you as a trainer) will grow. Don’t shy away from pointing out the tough stuff because you’re afraid of offending or upsetting the student; in order to be constructive, feedback should be straightforward and unembellished, even if it’s hard for the trainee to take (or for you to doll out). The more you practice feedback, the more comfortable you’ll become with it, and the more effective it will become.
But adjusting your own perspective on this training tool isn’t the only hurdle you have to overcome when refining your feedback delivery; it’s only the beginning. It’s best to break feedback into three distinct parts: contribution, approach and result.
In order for your trainee to accept your feedback, they first have to understand why it matters. Begin with a discussion of the task at hand, and clearly outline their role in the task and why it’s important. Though it might feel easier, avoid a “compliment sandwich.” Instead, be direct in addressing the task and the current problems.
During this conversation, your role is to help the student understand that their contribution is an important element in the effectiveness of the task. I say “discussion,” because that’s exactly what it should be. Though you’re outlining the task and addressing their flaws, you should also be conscious of your learner’s opinions. Ask questions and listen to their perspective, and take their thoughts into consideration. You might experience some resistance or what I call “fogging,” where the student tries to derail the conversation; be direct and keep them on track as you highlight why the feedback you’re giving them matters.
Once you’ve identified both the problem at hand and why their contribution to it is important, continue the conversation. Remember that giving feedback isn’t a lecture; it’s a two-way dialogue. As you offer solutions to the flaws in their implementation, they should, too. Eventually, you’ll identify an approach that’s realistic and mutually acceptable.
Specificity is key here, too. Don’t cater to their whims, and don’t be afraid to say “no” if their perspective continues to be flawed. The approach you identify and agree on should be specific, tangible, understandable, clear and measurable.
It’s critical that you not only discuss and decide on the best approach but also on what the end result of that approach will be. Identify and agree on what the best possible outcome is and how the steps you’ve outlined in your approach will help achieve it.
As for the result of the feedback itself, it should be twofold. The conversation and feedback, contrary to what you might expect, should improve your relationship. If you offer genuine feedback that matters, help them understand why and outline a realistic approach, there’s no reason for the feedback to be difficult or unsavory for the student. The feedback should also, of course, result in improved performance and a better contribution from the trainee, finally completing the full training/feedback circle.