Giving Delegates Feedback From Development Training

As a trainer I feel it is my professional obligation to give delegates as much as I am able to help them develop after our seminars.  If they feel there is something missing in this process I feel bad.  The issue of feedback, and above all ‘personal feedback’, is an on-going challenge.

Some training and development companies send out a short written report after the event.  In these reports there have been comments about what they liked and what could be improved and what the delegate could continue to work on and how to do so.  Other companies have just concentrated on what they liked and why the delegate’s particular behaviour had a positive effect on them.  This personalised feedback always seems very welcome by the delegates I have spoken to.  I do wonder what practical value it has.  I fear that, at the end of the day, it is just a set of subjective values with the trainer taking the role of expert. 

Trainers may indeed be experts but experts can and do disagree and also their own individual prejudices can and will play a part.  Although I value my own opinion for myself, what value can it have for others when I am not fully aware of all the facts and pressures and issues for the individual delegate?  Also I am aware that capricious feedback that questions a particular approach, however put, can worry a delegate and make them throw the baby out with the bath water and pull back from situations where they think they might attract criticism.

General or Specific Feedback?

At Frontline Training Solutions our own approach has been to provide on-going and immediate feedback during the interactive exercises and leave it at that.  The feedback has been specific and balanced and set against clear criteria.  But even this is not enough for some and for me to give more general feedback on the person themselves feels somehow arrogant and imperious.  Also I fear that I will simply be judging them against they way I would prefer to do things or how I prefer people to behave.  I am trying to expand my capacity and competency anyway and appreciate there are different and equally valid ways of achieving the same result.  What right do I have and what value can there be in trying to make people adopt my style?

Perhaps the issue of this personalised feedback is the age-old desire (some might say morbid desire) to know what other people think of us.  This might not be an issue or wish for much of our lives but age, situation, challenge, failure, even success, can all be drivers for the need to know what people are thinking of us.  I know some who might dismiss the notion as simply neurosis that should not be indulged in, and yet, and yet if we are to develop as caring, compassionate and empathetic human beings, as many leadership and management courses encourage, we must surely be concerned about the negative impact our behaviour and words might be having on those around us.  Are we giving out the right message?  Have we been misinterpreted?  Have we been misunderstood?  Are we following patterns of behaviour that are applauded by some but despised or feared by others?  It seems natural and right that, from time to time, we will want to check on this and the training room can be an ideal opportunity to do so. 

My question to delegates asking for personal feedback has always been why do you want it and against what criteria do you want to be assessed/judged?  These are difficult questions for any of us to answer and, not surprisingly, I tend to get unclear and insubstantial answers.  Perhaps all they want is an arm put around them and to be told you are doing okay but perhaps you need to look for opportunities to listen and then react, or put your point more clearly.  This seems to cross a line somehow between professional trainer and friend and, to my mind, holds little technical value.  If someone is already very technically proficient that little extra general reassurance can be enough to encourage them to take the next step forward that is well within their capacity to do so.  If, however, someone is lacking the skills and confidence to listen or assert themselves with personally challenging people then such support is less than useless and sometimes dangerous.

Sometimes I do cross that line between trainer and friend and have stayed with several delegates over the years and had them to stay with me.  On one occasion on the second night my new friend said, ‘So, what do the British actually think about the Germans?’  Not perhaps personal feedback but it showed a desire to be understood and valued as one broad group to another.

I need to accept this real and valid need at certain times in people’s lives to get general approval but also to know what they are doing/saying that could put certain people off them.  On several occasions whilst leading courses with the European Supervisory Education Initiative and the European Stability Mechanism, I have used Charles Handy’s empty chair technique for giving personal feedback at the end of a seminar. A delegate sits on one of two chairs at the front and a trainer or fellow delegate comes forward and sits in the other chair.  The second person sitting then gives feedback based on three areas: what they liked about the person, what they could concentrate on developing further and finally what they have learnt to improve about themselves by observing a strength in the other.  This feels like a high-risk activity and at the end of an exhausting seminar can feel like a bridge too far but the positive effect it has produced has been stunning and increased the sense of trust considerably.

A Systematic Approach?

For a systematic approach that can be easily built into a seminar structure I am still looking for a simpler and less risky device.  I have now turned my attention to our very own SWAG (Spy, War Correspondent, Ambassador, General) personality model, as used on several of our seminars including International Meeting Skills, International Negotiation Skills and International Leadership and Management Skills.  Using this model I can be more objective in my assessments and they can share with me their own assessments based on objective criteria we have used together in the seminar.  In this way I can say that a Spy might like this aspect of their personalities and value that behaviour but an Ambassador might get frustrated by such and such.  Also I will be able to identify performance during specific tasks, roles and responsibilities this way.  So in this situation these values you have expressed will work well but you are likely to encounter challenge and push back if those same approaches are used in another setting.  We can see from this that the potential for mentoring is close here but for which we do not have specific time but, nevertheless, this approach to feedback I believe is of far more use to the continuing development of a person than hastily phrased subjective unsubstantiated judgements.  It also builds on the work of the seminar and uses language and concepts with which the delegate has become familiar.

We have two international seminars taking place before the start of the summer holiday period, each lasting four days.  We will be using this feedback model in each and perhaps the Charles Handy technique too. 

The first seminar is International Meeting Skills held in London at the beautiful and historical Merchant Taylors’ Hall near the Bank of England running 28-31 May. 

The second is our Leadership and Management Skills held in Frankfurt at the epic main building of the European Central Bank running 11-14 June.

We hope to see you there and give you that boost before the summer holidays that precise and well-structured feedback can provide.

For more information call John Holmes on +44 1376 570982 or +44 7905 121848.