Walking the Talk

When I was looking for learning and development partner organisations for the company I was working for, I went out and audited the courses provided by potential partner training organisations. I sat in a room and listened to the advertised expert give his views on how best to manage poor performers in the office, and how to conduct training that best meets the needs of these staff.

During his lecture-style address he told the class that it was very important in a training situation to never say ‘no’ to a student, lest you cause them to lose face and become disengaged from what you are attempting to teach them. He went on to discuss the best way to run a performance management meeting with an under-performing staff member and warned the attendees to never show or verbalise empathy for the position of the staff member, lest they use this to get themselves off the hook for their poor performance.

I found this to be a very interesting pronouncement. There were a million questions in my head when I heard this approach, not the least of which was ‘what if you have a staff member whose performance has suffered due to a personal problem, like a death in the family, which you are unaware of?’ The road to lacking empathy for your team did not feel like a good start, and certainly would not help retention of staff.

He then attempted to elicit examples from people in the audience, with no preparation at all, on what exactly they would say to a poor performing staff member which met his empathy-less criteria. After asking a number of men in the room, he asked a woman. She began her answer, stating that she would talk to the employee and find out why they were having problems meeting best practice, and then tell the employee that ‘while she could sympathise with their difficulties, they needed to find ways to help them to get back on track.’

‘No, you clearly haven’t been listening to what I’ve been saying. Let’s ask someone else.’

This man did not ‘Walk the Talk’. Instead of concentrating on what the next attendee had to say, I was instead looking at the woman who had just ‘lost face’. I watched her blush, scribble something on her page, and, before my eyes, she disengaged. At the end of the session she was the first person out the door and I have no doubt that she took exactly nothing from that entire session. I doubt that she would ever agree to attend a session by that trainer again.

This trainer was certainly not ‘Walking the Talk’. He had just modeled for us, perfectly, the exact way to discourage an attendee, and turn a keen participator into a reluctant clock-watcher. Other people noticed as well and there were fewer hands raised to be the next speaker and give the benefit of their wisdom and experience. When experienced professionals back away from participation, the benefit of the training is reduced immeasurably; every single person in that room had wisdom to share, and the number of people sharing had just reduced considerably.

When you stand in front of a training room and ask your attendees to trust what you are saying, they will do so much more readily if you are a living embodiment of what you are teaching. If you are training soft skills, like professionalism and leadership, be professional. Reflect the values of great leadership. If you are training sales and marketing, sell your vision of best practice. If you are trying to instil confidence that people can master an IT system, break it down, make it simple, be clear, concise and help your attendees break through any mental barriers they might have regarding their ability.

Being an effective trainer isn’t just about reaching your audience, it’s about showing respect and listening to your audience. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ for training or managing staff, but there is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ rule for respecting all the people who come into your training room. Even the ones who have different methods and ideas to the ones you’re communicating.

Do you agree that ‘walking the talk’ is an important part of being an effective trainer? Have you ever been caught out saying one thing and doing another?

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