Someone standing in front of a whiteboard at the head of a table full of people turned to face them.

Empathy as a Trainer

Recently, I came across this article below and it got me thinking about training and how empathy really does play an important part in being a good trainer.

3 Reasons Why Empathy Is Essential for Your Training Development

It is not about whether someone is a feeling-forward person or more thoughtful; rather, it’s about understanding other people and situations. That’s why it is essential for learning professionals. Before we can create training on any topic, we must understand it.

As Robert continued describing the three reasons, I realized that understanding the topic is important, yes, but so is understanding the student and their situation.

For example, he describes a situation with SMEs where a good trainer can take the expert’s knowledge that they may not articulate very well and make it applicable to the learner. If you’ve been around here a few years, you may know that I’ve talked before about some of the smartest developers and subject matter experts I’ve known over the years who could talk your ear off over a beer, and teach you a ton about what they knew, but put them in front of an audience and all those fears of public speaking came flying out and they just couldn’t teach the audience much of anything.

Having empathy means understanding the situation. Understanding that forcing that expert to speak in public is not going to serve them or the students. It’s realizing that your students need someone who can stand in front of that classroom and do all the things good trainers do in a classroom, while also educating them on the material at hand. If your SME isn’t capable, then you go learn everything you can from that SME and turn it into a good classroom experience. It might also mean helping some of those brilliant experts get comfortable with a little public speaking so that they can get better and create a better experience for the students too.

Later, he talks about understanding what the sponsor of training is looking for and making sure it shows up in the training. They typically want the people who are spending time in training to know how to do the important tasks of the job. Good trainers know what those are. They understand the situation and how to meet those expectations.

At the end of the day, empathy and understanding come with a dose of humility too. As a trainer, I’m never there to be the star of the show. I’m there to facilitate learning by whatever means necessary. If that means pulling in someone who knows more than I do and can share that knowledge, I’ll do it. If it means sitting and soaking up other people’s knowledge so that I can have more to share with my students, you can bet I’m going to take advantage of opportunities to do just that. If it means listening to the managers who send folks to training and listening to the students to learn what they want from training, and being flexible enough to provide that, yes I’ll do that too.

I like to think that I’m a pretty good trainer. People have told me that I am. That absolutely doesn’t mean I can’t learn and be better. The students who show up wanting to learn and the managers paying for the time spent with me deserve the best I can give them. There’s no resting on our laurels around here, especially not in the tech world, where you can go from a subject matter expert to a total newbie in a very short time.

Make sure you are exercising those empathy muscles. They’ll help you understand where everyone is trying to go, and they’ll help you care enough to want to help them get there. That’s learning and development in a nutshell to me.

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