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Trainer’s Diary: Silence is Golden


Byron KaliesSometimes trainers need to lead, and sometimes they need to step back, and let the learners get on with learning. Byron Kalies explores the value of knowing when to take a back seat.

There's a false perception non-trainers and new trainers have about being busy and being effective. They're not the same. A lot of people mistake activity for effectiveness.

Let me explain. There's a particular type of trainer that loves talking. Now don't get me wrong as a trainer you definitely need to talk, and talk effectively. However there comes a point where you can only get in the way of the learners' learning. You've done all you can - set the scene - provided the information - created the right environment - now go away. This is the point some trainers have difficulties with. When the best alternative is to do nothing they tend to think; "So what am I getting paid for?" You're getting paid to stay out of the group. This requires a fair amount of skill, instinct and discipline.

It's reminiscent of that old joke about a man calling a plumber out to fix some noisy pipes. He has a look, has a listen then goes to his van and brings back a hammer. He gives the pipes a bang with the hammer and the noise stops. He presents his bill for £100.25 The man queries it and the plumber itemised the bill: "Wear and tear on the hammer, 25p. Knowing where to hit, £100."

It takes a lot of nerve and experience to be willing to say nothing. This, of course, doesn't mean that you're doing nothing - you're still involved, albeit silently. You're still responsible.

A particular example is in a particular 'goldfish bowl' scenario. If people haven't come across this it's a technique where one person tells the group of their particular problem then listens while the group discuss it. The idea is that the individual gets a new insight into the problem from others. The dilemma for the trainer is whether to get involved or not. Unless there's a really good reason my first reaction would be to go with no. You've worked with these people a little while now. They trust you and are willing to run this exercise so let them. OK you may be able to add a little in the way of extra input. On the downside - they'll be looking toward you to confirm, challenge the others' in the groups input and of course, your contributions will carry far more weight than they're entitled to. So, let them manage it themselves.

When it comes down to it, it's a matter of what your values are as a trainer. Are you into looking good or getting the job done? As a trainer there are many opportunities to look good, opportunities to come up with the clever answer (because you know what's coming next), opportunities to put people down because you have that power by standing at the front. But it really shouldn't be about that. It's about getting the job done. The job is for the learners to learn the most effective way they can. The focus is on them - not you. Too often non-trainers and new trainers (and some old trainers for that matter) don't get that and think it's an opportunity to show off.

Of course, you'd never do that would you?

* Byron Kalies' latest book "25 Management Techniques in 90 Minutes" (Management Books 2000) was published January 2005, for more information click here.


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