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Trainer’s Diary: The Art of Feedback


Byron KaliesByron Kalies discusses the skills required in giving and receiving feedback.

I guess most people are familiar with the Johari Window*. It's a model that looks at the importance of giving and receiving feedback. It deals with disclosure and becoming more open about yourself and able to tap into your hidden talents. If you haven't come across this there are many articles available.

As a trainer this process is extremely valuable. I would argue vital to your career. A huge aspect of training is being open and vulnerable. You can find yourself in a position where you feel all alone and uncomfortable. The more experienced you are, and the more self-aware you are, the less difficult it becomes (not easy - it's never easy). However to do this you need to be sure of yourself and your abilities. People often feel that once they have learnt the 'material' they have cracked it. Well, it's a start but only a start.

The next stage would be the process of delivering the material. For this to happen effectively you need a coach or mentor. You need someone you can trust. You need someone who is credible to you. You need a person who is honest and skilful enough to tell you truthfully how you are performing in a way that doesn't make you want to jump out of the window. This is a difficult role. There is the danger of the coach/ mentor wanting to show off and tell the person everything they should have done and leaving them demoralised. It's natural. They have spent x number of years getting to this point so there's a feeling that they will unload all their learning on you. Or, else they could be so wary of this that they don't say anything useful at all. The trick is to tread the middle path - give feedback but with love and respect. OK I know it's a bit of a hippie concept but if you are going to give someone feedback I believe you have to do it for the right reason. For me there is only one right reason and that's because you love them and want them to do something differently. You shouldn't give someone feedback to show off, to score points, to show how superior you are. You do it because you really truly want to help. This must be your intention.

However that isn't enough. There are two aspects to this. There's the intention but also there's the effect. Giving feedback you need to be sensitive to both. It's not much help after you've destroyed the confidence of a new trainer with accurate but unpalatable feedback to say your intention was to be helpful. It may well have been but you need to judge how much criticism the new person can usefully accept? For this you need to be sensitive and flexible. This is not to say that you abdicate your responsibility as a coach/ mentor at all. But, hey the training life is difficult enough - you don't need someone on your own team giving you a hard time. There are plenty of people 'out there' that'll do that for you.

* The Johari Window was devised by Joe Luft and Harry Ingham (the term being a combination of their first names) when researching human personality in the 1950's. Luft and Ingham observed that there are aspects of our personality that we're open about, and other elements that we keep to ourselves. At the same time, there are things that others see in us that we're not aware of.
The four are:
* The public area - things that are openly known and talked about and may be seen as strengths or weaknesses. This part we choose to share with others.
* The hidden area - things that others observe that we don't know about. Can be positive or negative behaviours, and will affect the way that others act towards us.
* The unknown area - things that nobody knows about us, including ourselves.
* The private area - aspects that we know about and keep hidden from others.
Applying the Johari Window the aim is to open up the public area and make the other three areas as small as possible. This is done by regular and honest exchange of feedback, and disclosing personal feelings. The idea is that people around you will understand you better and can provide appropriate support. And you can then do the same for them.

* Byron Kalies' latest book "25 Management Techniques in 90 Minutes" (Management Books 2000) was published January 2005, for more information click here.


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