Tip #344: Avoid Three Mistakes In Responding to Participant Evaluations

“Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to error that counts.” Nikki Giovanni

Trainers generally get feedback from their program participants at the end of a session when the participants are asked to complete a written evaluation sheet. No one really enjoys being criticized, especially when great effort has been made to do something as effectively as possible. It is also unpleasant to be blindsided by negative comments when the trainer has believed the training went well. Avoiding these three mistakes should make the evaluation process more manageable and less upsetting.

Mistake #1: Not creating a learning contract with the participants.

A learning contract is a verbal commitment to let the trainer know (privately) as soon as possible if the training content, learning activities, group facilitation or learning environment is not meeting the participants’ needs. There is no guarantee that all of the participants will honor this commitment. However, it can increase the probability that the trainer will learn about problems when there is still time to address them, rather than waiting to the end of the session.

Mistake #2: Taking negative written comments personally.

Training programs occur in the midst of participants’ lives and issues. As a result, there are many variables that can affect their attitudes and degrees of receptivity to a trainer and a training program. For example, if participants are ordered to attend a mandatory training and do not feel free to criticize management, it is highly likely that the trainer will serve as a ready target. So it is important that a trainer give a program more than once to see if there is a continuing pattern of concerns voiced by the participants. If the concerns continue, then they are worth serious consideration.

Mistake #3: Changing what should not be changed.

Participants have different expectations and learning needs. Some are more comfortable with certain learning activities and training formats, while others take issue with them. The key in responding to participant evaluations is to stay true to the goals and learning objectives for the training program. For example, if there is a pattern of some participants voicing displeasure with an application activity. However, the trainer should first consider another way to introduce the activity that may make participants more comfortable with it. Only then, if there is an alternative that will accomplish the same level of learning, should the trainer make a change.

If there is really no other viable option, then Abraham Lincoln’s observation can be adapted as a useful and practical philosophy for evaluation: “You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all the time!”

May your learning be sweet.


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