Provide feedback: “You did a lousy job!”

Ever since you were a child, you’ve been given feedback about your behavior, from your parents, teachers and friends when you were a kid, to your managers, spouse, friends and probably even your own kids, as an adult.

And I’m willing to bet that not all of it was positive, and that it didn’t always make you feel good.  When someone says something hurtful, it doesn’t make it any better when you hear, “I was just giving you my honest feedback.”

For each of Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, I’ve given you just a few words from my own experience to explain the rationale and provide illustrative examples of these events in a training context.  But I could write an entire book on Gagne’s Event Number 7, provide feedback, because I’ve seen many instances where feedback was handled so poorly that it has had the opposite effect of what was supposedly intended, to help the learner improve.

So today I’m going to put you in a training situation that you know well.  You have small groups, four learners in each, and the assignment is for each of the learners to role play a sales call on a prospect, while two observe.  After each role play, there is a debrief discussion so the role player can receive feedback from the other learners.

In the debrief, you notice that the typical “feedback” response goes something like this:

“Overall, you did a pretty good job. You opened well and your body language was good.  But you could have paused more to let the prospect speak, and most of your questions were closed-ended. I didn’t know if you realized that. Also, you had a number of opportunities to use a summary or trial close during the conversation but you didn’t, so you might want to focus on that next time.  I also noticed that you didn’t…”

Now tell me, if you were the role player, how would you be feeling right now?  What learning are you getting from this? What new behavior will you commit to adopting in the future? Oh, wait! It’s the next person’s turn to give you feedback.

A better way to provide feedback is to reinforce the positive behaviors, and help learners self-discover what they need to do differently, not beat them up.  So I have a very strict model for this type of practice, and I encourage you to use it too.

First, ask the role player what he thought he did well, and let him talk. Discourage him from talking about what did NOT work. Just focus on the positive.

Second, let everyone else speak on the same subject, including the learner who played the prospect:  “Here’s what you did well…” using specific, behavioral language.

Third, as the facilitator, offer your own observations on what the learner did well and back it up with your written notes, thus modeling how to observe for the others.

Finally, ask the learner to comment on one area he needs to work on, and when he’s finished, the “feedback” is finished.  No additional piling on!

I take this method so seriously that I post the instructions on a flip chart and I watch every debrief to ensure it’s being done correctly.  You try it too.  You’ll find that the learners feel good about the exercise, are more willing to practice more, and come away with a focus on what to do differently.

We’ll look at Step 8, “assess performance,” on Tuesday.  Meanwhile…

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

3 Responses to Provide feedback: “You did a lousy job!”

  1. Pingback: First Entry | Rob Skipper

  2. Rob Skipper says:


    Thank you for your comment on my blog. You were my first comment ever. I truly feel that if I am doing a lousy job, please tell me. I would much rather have someone be blunt and upfront with me. I have thick enough skin that I can handle the news and I always ask them to be specific. I was teaching a class on Main Generator Theory and Maintenance to a group of technicians on Friday. I received some comments that the pictures in my presentation were not exactly what we have in the plant. Not only was I embarrassed that the pictures were not accurate, but after having a conversation and asking them to help me make the the class better. They offered to take some pictures while they are doing the maintenance in the next week or two and will send them to me so that I can update my presentation. I spent most of the day learning as much if not more from them than they were learning from me. I went from Instructor to facilitator and all of us ended up learning more.

    Thank you for the great entries,

    Rob Skipper

    • Thank you Rob. I hope that whoever gave you the feedback about the pictures did so in private, and not before the group. Formative feedback ought not to embarrass someone. Good for you for seeking the feedback and making the necessary corrections to your program. Gregory

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