Why did I choose this tool?
I chose this tool based on experiences that I have personally gone through or I have seen others go through. It gives a clear picture of what happens to a participant when the trainer, perhaps knowingly or even unknowingly, shoots down the contribution of a participant. This can cause negative feelings in the participants and it can have the potential to make them disengage from the training process, shut down and lose the will to contribute anything else or to be in another training with that trainer. I believe it’s essential for trainers to be aware of this and to handle questions and comments from participants with consideration and in a way that fosters engagement rather than to shut it down.
How does this apply to being a trainer?
This topic is essential for trainers, considering that they might do it on a subconscious level. Shutting down participation without intention, and of course without even realizing that this is what they are doing. Therefore, the awareness gained from this article on this issue might help to bring it to light and to make communications more fluid and transparent between trainers and participants.
The example mentioned in the introduction is actually something that I have experienced in training in an EU country and as far as I can tell, the trainer believed that he has handled this situation perfectly. This situation was the cause for me to close up and to be absent for the rest of the training and made me think that is better to keep my opinion to myself because it might not be understood anyway. This is even though the trainer is a very good and kind person, and we have a very good friendship. These situations are not exclusive for trainers. I see this very often in university and school classes as well. The issue comes up when the trainer/facilitator/teacher gets in the way of what the participants are trying to do, sabotaging his/her own efforts.
Understandably, the trainer/facilitator has a certain point that he/she wants to get through to the participants, directing most of the session(s) to serve that goal. However, it might get to a certain stage where that point or learning objective becomes more important than the participants. Where it is true that the training goal or learning objective has priority, it is also true that the participants are at least of equal importance. Having said that, let’s switch hats now. And consider the scenario from the trainer’s point of view.
Being on both sides (participant/learner and trainer/facilitator), I can simulate more or less what might have been going on in the trainer’s mind. So, as the trainer (you, you have the trainer’s hat now remember!) you are in the middle of an important part of the training that you are very engaged in, trying to explain/facilitate the concepts or activities to serve the training goals. Then, all of a sudden, a participant starts to say something. You think “great, participation!”, but the more the participant speaks the more off-topic or even opposite of what you are trying to say he/she gets. You comment on what the participant said and show that it is indeed off or opposite to the topic, but that makes the participant go on even more with what he/she said! Therefore, you make a stronger comment and throw in a bit of humor to make it smoother. As far as you know, it went well because everyone in the session/class laughed and all seems well.
Now put on the hat of an invisible observer and let us take a deeper look at the possible negative results that the situation might have caused. To begin with, if you were another participant in that training and just witnessed what happened. You might think of one or all of the following:
- “thank god it wasn’t me!”
- “I better not do what he/she did”
- “I would rather be quiet and keep it to myself to avoid any embarrassment”
- “I should probably not ask/comment on what I want to”
Taking into consideration that “One way to accomplish the training goal is by engaging trainees through encouragement, support and empathy. On the other hand, trainers’ beliefs in their own instruction, content and learners also impact their instructional effectiveness. Thus, it is important that trainers design the training content and delivery methods strategically and carefully to facilitate learning and engage trainees” (Arghode & Wang, 2016). Trainers need to engage participants to create a caring, well-structured learning environment in which expectations are high, clear, and fair.
However, a “gap has been identified between instruction delivery and trainees’ conceptual understanding and skill enhancement” (Arghode & Wang, 2016). This gap can come from one or many of the internal or external factors. Internal factors being the participant’s motivation and inclination to learn, and external factors being the participants’ desire to receive recognition from instructors and/or peers. This can create an automatic reaction in the trainer’s subconscious, leading to automatic deflective or defensive statements to justify the trainers’ position or point of view. In other (simpler) words, just like participants try to avoid any embarrassment, trainers do the same. We all share the same biology, no one likes to be embarrassed (or challenged in his/her own training).
Other trainings that I had (particularly the penultimate) were very good experiences. And this is even though I did make some comments that later (after thinking about it) I realized were off-topic. At the time, however, the trainer managed to take my comment and mix it with the topic of the training very smoothly. I felt appreciated and that made me energized and more eager to contribute later on in the training, which was exactly what happened in the following days of the training. It might not be surprising that in that training, the participation was really high, and the trainer was monitoring and answering questions for most of the time. It felt like we, the participants, were more important than the content. Yet, we felt like we got valuable content from that training in addition to the great interactions among ourselves. The trainers did great in that particular training, they made it look so easy.
It is in the last training I had, where I faced being shut down by the trainer when I realized how much it takes to give effective training, considering that the trainer has to work with a multicultural group of diverse backgrounds, motivations, and interests. He/she is supposed to deliver the content of value as well, and make it all into fun and interactive sessions! For a moment there it seems like mission impossible. Yet trainers do that all the time and manage successfully in most cases.
- How many of these scenarios, or similar ones, can you remember being part of?
- Which one do you remember the most, as a trainer or as a participant?
- Do you notice any similar scenarios for yourself or others?
- What can you change/modify in your trainings to avoid these scenarios?
How to apply it in everyday life:
Ask yourself the first question (How many of these scenarios can you remember being in?), then write down the details of what happened. Try to put as much detail of what happened as possible. Then do a “what if” analysis, that is answering the following questions in order:
- What was I trying to do/achieve?
- How did it go?
- Why did it go that way?
- How will I do it in the future?
This way, you make sure that you are picking up these small incidents, strengthening your “radar” to detect things that normally go unnoticed, and improving the overall quality of your training.
It is desirable that all trainings succeed in creating that friendly, collaborative and empowering learning environment. However, things don’t always go according to plan, and trainers are humans after all, with different emotions and ups and downs. And while they are not expected to be perfect all the time, a participant rarely speaks up and says that he/she didn’t like how their contribution or comment was responded to. Especially if it is an individual case similar to the one that happened to me. Therefore, it is (again) up to the trainer to put these issues on his/her radar and try and be more aware of them in future.