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Your debriefing strategy

March 5, 2008

When it comes to delivering the debrief, some people don’t like sugar coating, whilst others prefer to be let down gently. There are times when you need to get straight to the point, whilst in other circumstances, tact or discretion may be the wiser path. So as a trainer, how should you lay it out to the student?

How you decide is known as the ‘debriefing strategy’.

This is applicable for a session debrief, post-assessment or for your weekly report. Although we want a factual and representative account of the training, a carefully considered strategy for delivering recount can help you get the all important message ‘this is how we are going to fix it’ across.

There are many different approaches that I have seen trainers use to describe student performances and these are the top six:

  • BLUF (Bottom line up front): Tell the student straight away what the key issues are and what we need to do to fix it. There are no sweeteners like “you did great, but ….”, just the problems, most severe first, and then our plan to remedy them. Sure, positive behaviours are reinforced and if the student went well, that’s what we lay out here.
  • BLATE (Bottom line at the end): This is the reverse of BLUF. The picture is progressively developed over the debrief, starting with the minor points and progressing to the more relevant. Remedial actions are usually left until last.
  • PoNI (Positive, negative, interesting): The trainer tries to balance out the performance by alternating positive and negative points.
  • Bathtub: The trainer starts of with some positive, reviews the negative and then finishes up with a positive point that leaves the student feeling ‘good’ at the end of the debrief. The ‘bathtub’ comes from the shape that is displayed when you graph student feelings vs time (a ‘U’ shaped line). The reverse (umbrella) is rarely used and tends to devastate students.
  • Chronological: The session is reviewed in the order that events occurred and is common in sequential or progressive training environments (eg air traffic control – this happened, then you …, then this …. etc).
  • Unstructured: No structure is applied. This usually occurs because of poor note taking or inattention by the trainer. Events are discussed as they are remembered and tend to most notable because of reactions rather than training value.

The best approach

The best approach will vary with the situation. If intervention occurred or the student made a critical error, use BLUF. Otherwise you may find that your student is preoccupied. If the student seemed to have no strengths, PoNI is a good method of ensuring that it isn’t all doom and gloom. Bear in mind different that students will respond differently to the approaches. Have them debrief you and see what they prefer. The goal of the exercise is to keep the student learning and if they only like it one way – that’s the way you should do it.

So what’s your strategy?

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