Putting yourself in their shoes

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Written by Tim Baker on 11 December 2013

Last week I got a rare chance to sit in the training room as a participant. Usually - like you, I suspect - I am at the front of the room, master of the universe and in total control. But this experience was different, although it was not the first, nor undoubtedly the last time I will do this. 

What a weird experience it was! Sitting in the back of the room, that is. And it was literally at the back of the room. I thought I would just relax and unwind as far away from the presenter as I could possibly get. 

Hopefully, I thought I could catch up on a bit of work without anyone knowing. I rationalised that it'll look like I am taking copious notes when in fact I am wading my way through the endless list of meaningless emails on my iPad . 

But the annoying part is that this trainer kept interrupting us, wanting us to get involved in some silly group activity. How inconvenient. I don't appreciate this learner-centred approach when I am trying to catch up on my workload. 

The trainer opened with the usual monologue about 'ground rules' and 'collaboration' and participation' and 'application'.  I've heard all this stuff before. I can tell you it doesn't sound so impressive when you are on the receiving end.

Then we were asked to introduce ourselves, all 12 of us, one-by-one.  Strangely I felt apprehensive. What will I say? Everyone in the room knows that I am a presenter. I'd better say something funny, or at least witty. Inspiration may come if I wait and let others dive in first. 

I found myself incessantly critiquing the trainer all day - and yes - it was a long day. I was focused on process. How did he introduce a topic? What activities did he use? How did he treat his 'subjects', particularly me? And so on. I don't think I learnt anything about the subject-matter. I was not concentrating at all and found myself off with the pixies for most of the day.

I found myself sabotaging the group work just for fun. I would take the conversation in another direction that had nothing remotely to do with the topic. I was particularly clever at not nominating to be the group spokesperson. "Gosh what beautiful handwriting you have Mary. I think you should speak on our behalf," I chortled with a smile on my face. 

Morning tea. Thank God. I stuffed my face with scones, cream and jam and got involved in an animated discussion about the cricket. We were beating England for a change (Sorry I had to throw that in!). At any rate, it was the most passionate and lively discussion I had all day. 

And the happy sheets! Boy did I give it to the trainer. I prided myself on being a hard marker, I reasoned. But I wasn't overly critical, after all he was a colleague. But he wasn't getting any 'fives' from me! There is always room for improvement.

Actually the trainer was pretty good. I picked up several activities that I could use in my next session. 

It's a good experience sometimes to put ourselves in the shoes of the participants we work with. You can empathise and understand the feelings they have in the training room. 

I think we trainers make the worst learners sometimes, I am embarrassed to say. 

Or, are the feelings we have in the training room the same as everyone else? 

About the author
Dr Tim Baker is an international consultant and managing director of WINNERS AT WORK. He can be contacted via www.winnersatwork.com.au
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