In last weeks Training Tips Thursday on the importance of evaluating your training, I said I would focus more on giving and receiving feedback this week. Most of the post will focus on giving feedback but I do have a couple of thoughts around receiving it as well.

Here are my top tips for giving feedback:

Give feedback at an appropriate time in an appropriate place.

If the feedback is worth giving, it’s worth giving properly. Don’t try and let someone know what you thought of their training, presentation or whatever it is you’re feeding back on, right at the end of the day, when they have just told you they need to leave in five minutes to catch their train. If you do this you will rush it, probably won’t say it quite right and will probably either leave them feeling annoyed or cause them to miss their train. Even if they ask for your thoughts, unless your answer is genuinely, “Amazing! You nailed it. Have a great evening.” just say you don’t want to hold them up and that you can chat tomorrow.

Never give feedback where you might be interrupted. You may start the conversation just the two of you in the kitchen of the office but it’s going to be very awkward when Terry walks in. He’ll either hear the feedback which could be embarrassing for the person receiving it, be aware that you have gone silent as soon as he walks in and nobody likes that or he will hear how wonderful you think the other person is and that can also cause tensions, especially if Terry was told last week that he wasn’t that wonderful.

Use a private office, meeting room or, if needs be, the corner of a cafe where you are very unlikely to be disturbed.

Be specific.

If you aren’t specific you may as well not bother giving the feedback. This is not useful feedback, “Some bits were a bit dragged out and I think some handouts for some of the activities would have been good but it was still good.”. The person receiving the feedback can’t really use it at all. They could guess at which areas of their course the person is talking about but they don’t know.

“I felt you spent too much time discussing X and I could see some of the participants getting fidgety during this bit. Rather than talking through all of it perhaps some of the information could be given on discussion cards so they could break and talk in their groups about those points. Also, the two activities which focused on Y covered a lot of information which I think could have been summed up in handouts to make sure the learners took it all in.”

Be constructive.

I am fairly sure that everyone wants to hear how well they have done something and this, as I will go into in the next paragraph, is a valuable part of giving feedback but one of the key reasons for giving feedback is to enable someone to grow and develop. To do this you have to be constructive, you have to give them something to work on so that they can improve or challenge themselves. Also, don’t just be negative. Saying “I didn’t like it.” or “That didn’t work.” or “I don’t think this kind of work is for you.” isn’t helpful. All of those things may be true. But even if the last one is genuinely the case and you can’t ever see that person being good at this type of work still try and be constructive. Perhaps you can identify skills they have that would fit into another job role. Even if it’s the tiniest ray of hope, give them something they can work with.

Use the sandwich.

I’m sure many of you know which sandwich I am referring to. It is commonly referred to as the sh*t sandwich. It is called this becasue the person giving feedback should give a positive piece of feedback, then feedback on something that wasn’t good and then finish with a positive again to soften the blow. I think this is a good way to give feedback but the name stinks (ha ha!). The name suggests that the bit in the middle is the worst bit but it’s not it’s the best bit. It’s the key to someone’s improvement. The key to them growing and developing either as an individual or within their job role. The feedback that they are given in the middle of that sandwich could be as valuable as gold to them. It shall from this point on be know as the Gold Sandwich (well, by me anyway). Despite my gripe with the name, I like the sentiment behind it. I think it is good to start with a positive. This person has worked hard (presumably) and like I said, most people like to receive praise. This positive could be a general, “On the whole it went really well.” or you could pick a particular thing that was really good. Then give them the specific, constructive feedback that they can take away and use. They might not like what they hear then and there. They may only appreciate it once they have gone away and thought about it but if they are sensible, they will come to appreciate it. Then finish with another positive. If possible try and make it different from the first. Don’t just echo the same sentiments from the start because this will seem tokenistic and leave the person feeling deflated.

Now my tips on receiving feedback:

Actively listen.

If someone has taken the time to observe your practice and give you feedback make sure you respect this by listening and showing you are listening. Give them eye contact and make sure your body language is relaxed. For some people giving feedback is as nerve wracking as receiving it so don’t sit their looking defensive and like you aren’t going to accept what you hear. If appropriate take notes and encourage them every so often we a smile or nod.

Accept it graciously.

This can be hard. If you felt something went really well, it isn’t easy to hear someone telling you that they didn’t feel something worked or that you might want to try another way of approaching it. You may not agree with their feedback but don’t get defensive. As I have said in a previous blog post, accept the feedback as a gift. We don’t like all the presents we receive but most of us probably smile, say “thanks” and put it away somewhere and forget about it. If you want to, you can do that with the feedback you receive. I suggest you don’t but you can if you want to. I suggest you at least have think about it. Perhaps discuss it with a colleague and not in a having a moan kind of way but genuinely getting their opinion. You may then still decide to hide the feedback in a cupboard with all the other rubbish gifts but at least you have thought about it. Not all feedback will be right but it is worth taking and muling over.

Ask questions.

If the person giving you feedback hasn’t read my blog post and isn’t specific with the feedback they are giving then ask questions. Using the same example as before, ask which bit in particular dragged and find out which activities needed handouts and what kind of handouts. You can do this without seeming defensive. Tell them it’s really useful to get feedback, that you like getting someone else’s opinion and that you really want to improve.

I hope you will find this useful. Giving feedback was the bread and butter of my work for a long time. I was an assessor for NVQs, a work based supervisor for University Students, I gave peer feedback to my colleagues and I also managed staff. So, it wasn’t only in a training environment that all of these tips came in handy.

Next week

I will be writing about planning training.