Rethinking Praise

The evaluation form is my chance to find out if I’ve met the expectations of the class. Over the years I’ve been running training programs, a lot of interesting information has come my way. I’ve changed classes, added suggested topics, and, occasionally, wondered what would possess someone to write a comment on the eval. form.

Adults learn differently from kids. Adults need to hear information more often, in different ways, in order to remember it longer. The word “educate” comes from the Latin “educare’ and it means ‘to pull out of,’ not ‘to stuff into.” Most people in the training sessions learn a lot from sharing information with people who work in similar business environments. Maybe even more than from me.

From me, they need to hear a practical application, examples that resonate with their experience, and reinforcement. If I tell a participant they are “wrong” or their writing “isn’t up to standards” in a training class, they won’t hear anything else I say.

My classes are short–one or two days. I can’t teach someone how to write in that time, or how to do presentations. But I can give them tools to use that will make them a better writer or presenter over time. And one way I do it is to find something to praise in every piece the participant reads or demonstrates in a presentation. By praising them for something they are doing well, it is more likely they will continue to do it. That alone will make them a better writer or presenter, and that’s my goal. I’m not a magician, just a trainer.

But every now and then, I get a comment on the evaluation form that baffles me. “You should be harsher in your criticism” said one. A few months later I got the more enigmatic,”You did not criticize other people’s work strongly enough.” I’m still not sure if they thought other’s work needed to be critiqued or if I had said something they interpreted as harsh. A few weeks ago I found this on an evaluation, “This isn’t a New Age training center, I expect some criticism that stings so I can improve.” What was that person’s childhood like? Is s/he a manager? Do they sting their co-workers with their remarks?

I’ll take being marked down because I’m New Age. I’d like to see a whole New Age of kindness and encouragement. I think we need it.

—Quinn McDonald is a trainer and certified creativity coach who teaches business writing, writing for the web, writing the everything journal, putting power back in powerpoint, and other classes. See them all at Image by Quinn. (c) 2007. All rights reserved.

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