The final concept from Trevor Ragan’s Train Ugly presentation that I will share is the role of feedback in cultivating a learner focus (see dot #1916).

If people receive feedback on their performance, it reinforces the importance placed on outcomes and thus highlights the value in looking good. If you say to someone: “You are so great at X”, their mind has the propensity to translate that to “you get praise if you are good at X” so they take the easy road to remain good in this area, or negative feedback gets translated into “that is bad so I must be bad.” Bottom line: the focus stays on looking good vs. learning.

However, if you provide process focused feedback, you help them see the learning process and the focus remains on getting better. Saying: “You did a great job on X, how did you get so good at it?” helps acknowledge the process that can be repeated to do other great things. “You did a great job on X, you must have worked hard,” or “X didn’t go so well, what did you learn from it?” are all ways of helping the focus remain on the process.

I think about this as so many students are recently back to school. What will you say to your children when they bring home report cards or when your child texts you from college? How can you intentionally adjust your feedback to help them focus on “getting better” – even if they are great – vs. trying to look good in the future?

The same applies to organizations and supervisory feedback. Saying “that project went well” and leaving it at that fails to provide the process focus that will free your staff to experiment and take risks in the future.

The old adage is: “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Change that mantra in your head to: “if you can’t say something about process (with both positive or negative feedback), don’t give feedback at all.”

To learn more, see


About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

Dr. beth triplett is the owner of leadership dots, offering coaching, training and consulting for new supervisors. She also shares daily lessons on her leadershipdots blog. Her work is based on the leadership dots philosophy that change happens through the intentional connecting of small steps in the short term to the big picture in the long term.

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