Law enforcement trainers are truly a special breed. They are dedicated to their people, to their agency, and to this noble profession. They show up early, work hard, and stay late to provide the best possible training for their folks. Loyalty, professionalism, motivation – words that only begin to describe these amazing people.
But there is one thing – one thing that can make even the best of them hesitant. Something seemingly innocuous can cause the best of training to be rendered useless. It’s not fear, or even danger that causes this. So, what is this one thing? Negative feedback. Not to the instructor. But delivered by the instructor to one of their students.
So many of us (yes, I mean “us” – as in including me) shy away when we have to tell someone they did something wrong or could do something better. Why you ask? Because it makes us uncomfortable. Sometimes it can lead to disagreement or worse an argument. But we can’t afford to provide it. So how can we make it easier?
First, make sure your intentions are pure. It should be our intention for the feedback to improve our students. Not to humiliate them, or to make them uncomfortable, or to show them how much more of an expert we are in a given field. People almost always can sniff out when someone is being disingenuous.
Second, lead them along the path of self-discovery. We are big proponents of the Socratic feedback method. As part of this method the instructor asks this question, “What would you differently?” Not, “What did you do wrong?” Because when you ask that, people tend to get defensive. And when they’re defensive, they aren’t very receptive. However, if they identify areas of improvement themselves, they are less likely to be defensive AND more likely to make the needed changes.
Finally, one of the best ways to approach this dreaded event is to have a plan to follow up with the person. It simply isn’t enough for this to be one and done. Following up after the fact to make sure that change has taken place ensures that the training had the desired effect – a change in behavior. Furthermore, following up in this manner shows the person that you do in fact care about them and will make negative feedback much easier the next time it is needed with that person.
Instructors must fully understand the importance of feedback. They must also recognize that negative feedback is a big part of this. Remember, there is time to be negative – and this is it!