Teaching Through Praise

At the end of every class I teach, I hand out an evaluation form. The form is my chance to find out if I’ve met the expectations of the class. Over the years I’ve 4274463847_b8a00c8bbbbeen running training programs, a lot of interesting information has come my way. I’ve changed content, approach, and added suggested topics, all based on evals. Occasionally, a comment has made me wonder what would possess someone to think of the comment written on the evaluation.

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. Their mind will be caught in the sticky spider web of having been shamed in front of a whole class.

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.

dominatrix_2But every now and then, I get a comment on the evaluation form that baffles me. Today I read, “I didn’t really need this class for more than a review of what I already know, but your laxity in correcting others disappointed me.”  A few months ago, I got the more enigmatic,”You did not criticize other people’s work strongly enough.” I’m still not sure what this was supposed to teach me–would they be happier if I appeared in class in black leathers and a whip?

Instead of planning how to be tougher, I thought, “What was that person’s childhood like? Is s/he a manager? Do they slap their co-workers with their remarks?” Children of alcoholic parents often grow up to be alcoholics because drinking created power in their home. What will these managers train their direct reports to be? Praise is a powerful teaching tool. And it works. I’ll keep using it.

Quinn McDonald is a trainer who teaches business writing and creative work. She knows the Inner Critic thrives on shame and has chosen to promote the Inner Heroes instead.