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Trainer’s Diary: Feedback – Who Benefits?


Byron Kalies Feedback can be hugely beneficial to learners, but Byron Kalies always tries to keep in mind who needs to benefit from it.

I remember being new and quite evangelistic about feedback. It was always the right thing to do to give feedback without compromise. It was highly effective – most of the time. But every now and again it didn’t feel right. At the time I put this down to nervousness or an inability to leave my comfort zone to confront people. And yes I know it shouldn’t be confronting, but it certainly felt like that to me at times. After a while this got to be fairly comfortable and in terms of the Steps to Learning model below I was pretty much at the ‘unconsciously competent level;

There did come a time when it went very wrong and I had a particularly difficult situation with a very upset individual. I felt I had fallen from my unconsciously competent perch right back down to unconsciously incompetence. It was all meant to be positive and I was really trying to be helpful, and nothing I said was untrue – from my perception. Yet they were really upset. They were fine eventually but it made me reconsider why I had becoming so "aggressive" giving feedback. I totally believed that I was helping people and I’m sure I did help a fair number of people with this approach. I believed I was being uncompromising and telling the truth. I realised that I was doing this out of a sense of desperately wanting to help people be better.

What I failed to realise was that I wasn’t taking into consideration the effect I was having on the other person. It’s not a lot of good intending to help when all you’re doing is making the recipient feel bad, upset and wrong. As the saying goes: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Good intentions aren’t enough – I needed to be more skilful and far more sensitive.

I also had to dig a little deeper and look at my motives. My motive was to help but there was a fair amount about me looking good as well. This was certainly a perception I felt. I had somehow gained the impression that it was considered to be very macho to be as brutally honest as possible.

On reflection this did seem an aspect of training that many trainers went through – and most passed through very quickly. Whilst it would be overplaying it to say it has done a great deal of harm to training, in general I feel there has been some damage and a number of people put off training as they have heard horror stories of ‘tough course’ and ‘uncompromising individuals’.

As I say this is often borne out of a willingness to help. Frequently though I look for the people who help as simply and effectively as possible rather than someone announcing to the world: “Hey look at me - I’m helping someone."

Steps to Learning – Brief description
At the start if you don’t know how to do something – drive a car, teach people, etc. you are at the unconsciously incompetent level. You’re incompetent (you can’t do something) but you don’t really know you can’t do it (You’re unconscious of the fact).

Once you start to address the fact you move up a step to the consciously incompetent level. You still can’t drive the car but now you know you can’t. This really is a step up but it feels anything like. It is uncomfortable. You’ve gone past the ’ignorance is bliss’ level and can’t get back.

After a while you learn, progress, improve and you can teach, drive the car. However, it’s all done by the numbers – ‘Mirror. Signal. Manoeuvre’. It feels stilted. It’s how people sometimes feel going back to the office after a training course. They have learnt to use listening skills but it feels awkward and contrived but you can do it (unconsciously competent).

Finally when you’ve been using the skills for a while you don’t have to think about them. They’re automatic to you. It’s only when you have to consciously think about what you’ve done that you realise you’re on automatic pilot. This is usually excellent. However, along with this can often come a sense of arrogance and that is when you’re in danger of making a mistake and you’re back at the bottom of the steps again.


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