Langevin Blog

It Hurts so Good: Dealing with Negative Course Evaluations!

June 10th, 2009

sad-faceYou have given it your all!  Answered all the questions from learners, made it a fun course and even gone out of your way to assist with issues that are were directly related to the workshop topic.  However, when you review the course evaluations, you discover a devastatingly poor rating from one of the participants!  You wrack your brain trying to remember if you said anything wrong, forgot to address a specific need from that learner, or failed to validate an important comment or effort he or she contributed to the class.  NOTHING!  But that low mark keeps staring right at you.  It does not matter that every other attendee gave you a stellar rating and commented on the fantastic job you did – you keep focusing on the bad one.  It may even claw at your pride and your self esteem as a facilitator.  (I know from personal experience!)  Yet, a negative course evaluation can really be a great professional growth opportunity – providing you know how to harness its information and how to react to it.

Here are some tips that have served me well:

Be Fair and Stay Objective

I’ve found that the first step to dealing with a negative course evaluation is to get comfortable with the fact that everyone is entitled to their perspective and opinion and to view any experience through their own set of glasses.  After all, each evaluation is, in essence, an opinion.  In the end, it boils down to whether you can honestly answer the following questions with a solid “YES.”

Did I…

  • …follow the lesson plan for the course?
  • …do everything possible to address that person’s needs during the course?
  • ….do my best in establishing a healthy learning climate?
  • …receive a substantial number of positive evaluations from other attendees?
  • …make sure everyone felt included and supported by me during the course?
  • …create a fun healthy environment for all?
  • …clearly show the course benefits to each attendee?
  • …show learners how the training directly related to the day-to-day job?
  • …bank on each participant’s experiences to add value to the course?
  • …spend some one-on-one time with each participant?

Allowing yourself to sulk over one bad evaluation when all the other ones are stellar is not the way to deal with the issue.  Rather, read the positive evaluations in detail before you go back to reviewing the “bad” one. It will give you a fair perspective with which to accept any constructive criticism offered in the latter.  After all, we ALL have the chance to learn something new from time to time.

Coping and Moving Forward

You may, however, have answered, “NO” or “Not to the extent that we usually do” to any of the questions listed above.  One of the most rewarding experiences that I have had as a Langevin Course Leader is that every time I teach a course, I am given the opportunity to learn as much as my participants – and maybe even more!  As part of our course summary process, we are responsible for completing and submitting a document, along with the individual participant evaluations, to our supervisor.  In that document there are two questions that I find are key to assessing both positive and negative evaluations:  “What will I do differently the next time I teach this course?” and “What was one new thing I learned about how to train people this week?”

I find that it automatically makes it easier for me to be objective about any comment made on an evaluation when I take the time to explore these two questions and I give myself permission to be human rather than “the perfect trainer.”  This helps me accept that there is always something to learn from every experience and some way to improve what I have done.

I would be remiss if I did not also share with you that I have had to learn how to take advantage of a secret and very powerful weapon when I have to deal with tough evaluations:  my boss.  My supervisor plays a key role in helping me stay objective and consider the evaluation comments.  She is essential in my mentoring process and helps me discover what I have learned from the experience and how to make the best of it.  Someone like a supervisor, mentor, or a trusted team member is able to offer valuable perspective, as our opinions of ourselves are often askew – if not too harsh – when it comes to dealing with comments on an evaluation.

But enough about what I think…now it’s your turn.  You need to give me a hand here and send in your comments to this blog.  Tells us about how you deal with the impact of rough or negative evaluations.  Feel free to also post questions related to the topic or to recommend any favorite columns, articles, or books that may help.  I look forward to hearing from you.

The Langevin Team



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5 Responses to “It Hurts so Good: Dealing with Negative Course Evaluations!”

  1. Sharon L. Burton says:

    Sometimes comments can be tough. As you stated, review the comments for what you can get from them. I have picked up learner style information from evaluations and was able to make some changes to courses.

    Don’t allow a comment to drag you down. Look to change what you can change. Keep the students engaged and excited as possible. Keep in mind that you are there to impart valuable information that the student can use right away or in the future.

  2. Julie Talone says:

    Early in my Learning and Development career, I received a highly valuable bit of information that has stayed with me throughout my 17+ years of adult educating: 3% of your audience will not like you.

    You will not have spoken one single word, yet because of the color of your hair, skin, eyes, your body type or stature (the list can go on and on), 3% of your audience will not like you and your class evaluation sheets will show it.

    That being said, I endorse what Jose stated above. Look to see any nuggets of truth. If there are none, blow off the poor eval and then move on.

  3. Great information Excellent tips. Thank you for the great site.

  4. Mary says:

    This article and the comments help so much! I recieved a very angry, hurtful, negative evaluation from a student that upset me so much, I nearly overlooked the fact that every other student reported enjoying themselves tremendously and learning a great deal in my course. That was my 3%! Luckily, the constructive criticism from other students was diplomatically expressed and I’m looking forward to making changes for the better.

  5. JOSE says:

    Hi Mary….

    If what Physics tells us is true that where attention goes, energy flows, then whatever we are focusing on is what gets energized and grows. So keep your eyes on the constructive critique and let is show you how you can evolve from it. Remember that we can only recognize in others the qualities that live within ourselves, the evaluator who lashed at you was probably reflecting on his/her own shortcomings. Let’s hope they did not miss the opportunity to grow and let us celebrate the fact that you have and continue to do so.

    All the best,


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