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4 Tips for Delivering Feedback Instead of Criticizing

Posted by Jeff Welch on 7/23/18 8:00 AM
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Photo by: Rawpixel via Unsplash

Effective training is comprised of three core elements: presentation, application, and feedback.


The concept seems simple enough. Engaging content is presented or delivered to trainees. The trainees are then given an opportunity to apply that content during a thought-provoking activity or hands-on exercise. Lastly, the trainees receive feedback on their performance on the activity or exercise.


Notice, the word feedback is used, not criticism. As training facilitators, instructors, and coaches, it’s important to know the difference between feedback and criticism.


Feedback is best described as a reaction to a person’s performance of a task; it’s often used as the basis for improvement.


Criticism, on the other hand, suggests the expression or disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.


With most adult learners, criticism is the least preferred of the two options because it can take us back to an uncomfortable time in our childhood.


Psychology suggests that many of the messages we received from our parents while growing up were likely perceived as criticism (e.g. “You’ll end up hurting someone.” or “You can do much better in your math class.”). According to Leon F. Seltzer of Psychology Today, to most people “such parental disapproval felt uncomfortable and de-stabilizing.”


So how does one deliver feedback in a training environment instead of criticizing? Here are four tips you might find helpful.


Focus Solely on the Trainee’s Task Performance

In training, feedback should be focused solely on a trainee’s performance of a task. This is especially important if the feedback addresses opportunities for improvement of the task.

When the feedback is task-specific, it lessens the likelihood of the trainee viewing it as criticism or a personal attack. Begin by indicating specific actions that you observed the person perform. Address what the trainee performed well, as well as what they didn’t perform per the standard operating procedure. Focus on the objective facts related to the completion of the task and avoid including any personal feelings about the person or a personal critique of their performance.


Describe the Consequences of the Task Performance

In keeping with the theme of task-specific feedback, it’s important to describe the outcome or consequences of performing the task. If a trainee performed a task incorrectly, not only do they need to be informed of that, they must also be made aware of the negative consequences of incorrectly performing that task. That however, is only half of the message.

It’s also important to indicate the benefits of proper task performance. If the feedback focuses exclusively on the negative, the trainee may get the impression you are only focusing on his/her faults or wrong-doing, which might seem overly critical.


Provide Suggestions for Improvement

The purpose of feedback is to help a person learn, grow, and develop. The person may never do that if he/she doesn’t have specific suggestions for improvement. This is especially important in the case of performance-based feedback most often delivered in a training environment.

In training, inevitably, our trainees will make mistakes from time to time. As trainers, it then becomes our job to address those mistakes and share various suggestions for improvement. If we don’t provide any tips and best practices for improvement, our feedback message never comes full circle. We essentially leave our trainees hanging. At that point, we’ve only been critical of their mistakes instead of giving them genuine performance-based suggestions and feedback.


Involve the Trainee in the Feedback Process

Feedback is a two-way street. It’s as much about soliciting it, as it is about giving it. When discussing performance-based feedback, it’s important to involve the trainee in this process.

Ask the trainee questions such as “What could you have done differently?” or “What did you learn from this?” Trainees will often admit to their own short-comings and be much more open to your suggestions for improvement.

When you make the feedback a two-way dialogue it seems less accusatory and judgmental. It feels less like criticism and more like actual feedback. Lastly, when the trainees are consulted on the solution, they won’t argue with their own data and they’re usually more likely to implement those solutions or suggestions for improvement.


Feedback is a necessary part of the training experience. Delivering feedback, however, is not always comfortable and can often be tricky. Hopefully by practicing these techniques you’ll find your feedback approach less critical and more of a rewarding experience for both you and your trainees.


Please join us in our Instructional Design for New Designers and Instructional Techniques for New Instructors workshops where we discuss feedback in much more detail.


Dealing with Difficult Participants

Jeff has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in both Speech Communications and Broadcasting from Western Kentucky University. Before pursuing his passion for training, Jeff worked as a television reporter, flight attendant, fitness instructor, and tour guide. Jeff started his career in training at the daily newspaper in Atlanta. Training seemed to be a natural fit for him since he’s always been a bit of a performer. When at home, you’ll catch Jeff watching a cooking show, recreating a dish he’s eaten abroad, or exploring one of the many great restaurants in the Chicago area. During the summer months, he hits the road to follow the talented drum corps of Drum Corp International—something he’s done since high school!

Tags: instructional techniques, job performance, instructional design, technology and training, public speaking skills, facilitation, feedback

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