As I continue to teach my teenage daughter how to drive, I was reminded of another important concept for trainers, supervisors, and leaders: feedback is critically important. There are four types of feedback, and it’s important to understand and select the right one for the situation. Let’s take a look at feedback in the training scenario.
Positive Feedback. This one is the most enjoyable for the giver and the receiver. When your learner does well, give positive feedback to reinforce the behavior. My daughter has mastered many driving basics but I still offer her encouragement on those skills. Recently, I had her make a left turn onto a busy road near our home, she had to watch traffic carefully, find a gap, and accelerate across the road into her lane. I praised her behaviors in watching traffic, deciding when to go, and executing the maneuver well.
Redirective Feedback. Things don’t always go as they should, that’s why the person is learning! When the learner messes up, it’s really important for the trainer to give feedback right away to correct that behavior. Redirective feedback is certainly more negative in nature and it’s not as much fun as positive feedback but it is the trainer’s job to give it so that the learner can learn. Our driving lessons are in a minivan, I taught my daughter to always look behind the van before backing up because you can’t see any smaller obstacles back there using the mirror or looking out the back window. Recently we were in a hurry and we both got in the van quickly. I asked her if there was anything behind us, she realized immediately that she hadn’t looked, so she hopped right back out and did so. No big deal, no punishment here, just redirecting her to keep that good safety habit even when in a hurry.
Punishment. When would you use punishment in the training scenario? Never. By definition a learner doesn’t know how to do the job yet, punishing them for something they didn’t know will just cause frustration and anger and defeat the learning process. Punishment should only be used when a person knows better but chooses to do the wrong thing anyway.
Extinction. This is the one that most people don’t understand and many managers use wrong all the time. Extinction is choosing not to offer any feedback in response to a person’s behavior, in other words, keeping it to yourself. Managers are using extinction, wrongly, when their employees do good things yet they hear no positive feedback, this is a sure-fire pattern for disengaging employees. In this case the manager chose to use extinction in place of positive feedback. Extinction feedback is appropriate when the learner is advanced enough to draw his or her own feedback from the results. My daughter is pretty good now at stopping at intersections, looking for other cars, waiting her turn, and so on. Sometimes she navigates a turn or stops at a stop sign a little faster, slower, or differently than I would. As long as she’s driving safely, I no longer say anything about those maneuvers because she knows the basics and can evaluate her own behaviors and results. She’ll even make little comments to me like: “Oh, that was a little fast for that curve,” or “Whoops, I should’ve braked a little sooner for that sign.” This tells me that she’s learning from experience and evaluating herself, I don’t need to nag her about every little thing. I save my redirective feedback for newer skills she is still learning and let her own experience reinforce the skills she already knows.
So, choose your feedback wisely. Use lots of positive to encourage good performance. Use redirection to help learners get better or to coach more experienced performers to even higher levels. Save punishment for those few spots when it’s needed to stop a consciously -chosen bad behavior. Don’t use extinction when you ought to use positive feedback, use extinction when the learner can quickly figure it out for themselves.