Steve Willis is a master trainer and vice president of professional services at VitalSmarts.
I recently observed a new facilitator ask the group to summarize their understanding of a particular concept she had just taught. She got several responses, the last of which was inaccurate—not mostly accurate with a shade of inaccuracy, we’re talking the “I’ll take wrong answers for a thousand,” the old, “surely you must be joking Mr. Answer-pants,” the . . . well you get the picture. So what do you do when a participant gives an answer that is clearly wrong?
Well, the new facilitator did what most facilitators might do. She took a deep breath and said, “Yes.” And then proceeded to give the correct answer. This tactic is known as the build approach and is a way to build on what the participant said. Sounds like a good solution, right? You don’t make the participant feel bad and you still get the correct answer out there—it’s a popular tactic many facilitators use for those very reasons. And yet, in this case it was less than effective . . . and dare I say, wrong?
By answering “yes” the facilitator sent the message to the individual and the class that, “you’ve just given a mostly correct answer” when in fact the person had given an entirely wrong answer. Bottom line is a facilitator should use the build approach only when a participant offers an incomplete answer, not an inaccurate answer.
When a participant gives the wrong answer, it’s much more effective to say something like, “Actually, it’s different from what you’ve described. A more accurate description would be . . .” Or, “concept X is more closely aligned with Y. Who can tell me why that is?” This way, you can affirm your respect for the individual, and ensure all the participants (especially the ones who give inaccurate responses) learn the ideas, concepts, and skills correctly.
Next time you find yourself in this situation, do your participants a huge favor. Don’t accept the completely wrong, or even the mostly wrong answers. Instead, help them see how their response was inaccurate—in a respectful manner.