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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Handling difficult training situations: When your trainees know more than you do

I was once in a very awkward situation as a trainer.

I started off my career as a field support engineer. During my first days on the job, I was trained by a very senior engineer who mentored me well and taught me a lot of skills needed to survive on the job. A couple of years later, I became a technical trainer and started teaching courses for other field support engineers.

Once it so happened that I was teaching a course that was a mandatory certification requirement for all field engineers in my line of work. And guess what! My former mentor and a couple of his equally senior colleagues were “students” in my class. It was the equivalent of a high school physics teacher having Newton, Einstein and Galileo as his/her students.

Every student in my class knew that they all knew more than I did. And I was myself acutely aware of this fact. Luckily for me, they were all very understanding. Rather than wasting everyone’s time and energy, we decided to convert the class into a knowledge sharing session rather a one-sided lecture. However, for compliance requirements, they agreed to submit the required assignments.

So how do you handle it, when you find that your students are all much more knowledgeable than you are ?

My thoughts:

  • First, don’t get embarrassed or flustered. No one knows everything. It is perfectly normal for even a trainer to run into people that are more knowledgeable and accomplished.
  • Be willing to learn. Be humble. Do not try to impose your authority as a trainer on your students who know more than you do. This will only irritate the audience. Even if your knowledge of the subject is not as good as theirs, they will respect you if you are authentic. But if you try to hide behind a fa├žade of false authority,  you will lose whatever respect you might have had J
  • Change your approach: If you have a class of beginners who are new to the subject, you can be the “Sage-on-the-stage”. But if you have a class of experts as your trainees, let go of your ego and be the “Guide-on-the-side”. Be more of a facilitator and help everyone learn off each other. Remember that there is nothing disgraceful about this. You are also enriching yourself by learning from the experts. Gather as much as you can and then pass it on to your future students.

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