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October 20, 2012 / jeffmedic

Feedback

This is an article I wrote for a local EMS agency’s newsletter.

Giving effective feedback is an essential skill for an EMS provider. We are all teachers at one time or another and one of the best ways for an adult to learn is by receiving feedback on their performance. This feedback can come from a partner, other members that were on the call, a supervisor, hospital personnel or even the patient. Being open to giving and receiving feedback is one of the characteristics of a serious professional.

For our feedback to be effective there are a few things we should keep in mind. First, always deliver good news in public and bad news in private. Berating someone for poor performance will not induce that person to change if you do it in front of their friends or worse, the patient. Criticizing people in public turns a teaching moment into a confrontation. Better to pull them aside and discuss it privately or perhaps with a small group so that the recipient of the feedback does not feel as threatened.

If the feedback is positive, shout it from the roof tops. When someone does a good job, make sure that everyone involved knows it. This will encourage better performance in all who are involved. It will also, lay the groundwork for when you do have to provide corrective feedback when a mistake is made. It is a lot easier to take correction from someone who has praised you in the past.

Second, make sure that you separate principle from preference. A principle is something that has to be done, a preference is something that could be done. Sometimes it is hard to separate the core principles of a task from our preferences on how to do it. There are often many ways to perform a task and you will work with people that do things differently. This is particularly true when precepting a student or new hire. You are undoubtedly very good at your job and have a routine in place. Allow the student or new hire to come up with their own routine. You are there to ensure that the principles are adhered to. It is unfair to evaluate them based on your preferences.

Third, if you have been chosen to guide a student or new hire that means that you have been identified as someone who has mastered your job. That mastery took time and a lot of work. It is unreasonable to expect a newbie to come out of the gate functioning at anywhere close to your level. They will make many mistakes and do things that you don’t agree with. It is vital that you do not bombard them with feedback about every little thing they did wrong after a call. Pick a small number of the most important things and focus on those until they are corrected. Then pick a few more. This will make the improvement manageable for the learner.

Last but not least, make your feedback as specific as possible. Telling someone to “do better” doesn’t spur anyone to change. The recipient needs specific feedback on what went wrong and why it went wrong. Once you have explained these things to them ask them to come up with a way to correct it. Then compare their solution to what you would do. Having them think through the problem will set the stage for long term improvement.

I hope this discussion of feedback is helpful to you. I would love to hear about ways that you have found to give effective feedback. Stay safe!

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