Monday, 15 May 2017


By V.K.Talithaya

"But Phaedrus is no shepherd either and the strain of behaving like one is killing him. A strange thing that has always occurred in classes occurs again, when the unruly and wild students in the back rows have always empathised with him and been his favourites, while the more sheepish and obedient students in the front rows have always been terrorised by him and are because of this his objects of contempt, even though in the end the sheep have passed and his unruly friends in the back rows have not."                                                                                                                                                     -  Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert M Pirsig 

Eloquent lectures, great topics, learned and colourful presentations, participants listening in rapt attention - you are somewhat thrilled that your one-day training programme has been a great success. You come home from the programme with a sense of satisfaction; feeling you have done a wonderful programme, a brilliant performance. In the quietude of your office you review the feedback of the participants. They liked the lectures. The topics were carefully chosen. The presentations were clear, colourful and attractive. The setting was immaculate. Overall rating was good. But to the one last question - what is the single most important take-away from this programme? - the answers are vague and equivocal. You are perplexed by comments such as: I am happy; I am a better communicator; I am clear about my goals and so on. You wonder what, indeed, is the take-away from your programme! And, this is not the first time you feel it. Yes, you are about to be caught in the Trainer's Trap.
A young, aspiring trainer tells me how well his three-hour session went on. "It came out very well. I started off with the introductory stuff, gradually moving up to choices, aspirations, goals and so on. The group was kind of mesmerised as the programme progressed". I ask him what was the percentage of time he spoke in those three hours and what was the percentage the trainees spoke? He says, "Why? Naturally, I spoke most of the time, say, almost ninety per cent, and they enjoyed it". This young, budding trainer also is caught in the Trainer's Trap.
Many trainers approach training as teaching, hectoring or preaching. According to them, training is like filling empty vessels with knowledge - and knowledge usually takes the form of information. The trainer believes that he is the repository of all knowledge that needs to be gifted to the participants. That is how most of us were taught in our schools. Is that not a time-tested technique of teaching? The teacher sees the eagerly listening, studious students in the front rows of the class - the ones who never fail to get the best grades. The teacher admires their keenness to accept whatever he teaches. Often, when one of those apparently mischievous looking 'trouble makers' in the back benches asks a question or expresses his views the teacher shuts him, "Your views are not sought here, you are expected to follow the lesson". Teaching takes place from this high pedestal. Years later, the teacher wonders why his front benchers did not make the grade in life, whereas the despised back-benchers made the grades as start-up entrepreneurs, innovative businessmen or CEOs of good companies. We have many instances of long forgotten back-bench alumnus making to the highest positions in global companies. The colleges and teachers remember the erstwhile student only after reading about him in the media. When he becomes famous thus, they discover great qualities in him. 
Is training same as teaching? The essence of training is enabling 
participants to learn, providing them techniques to respond to their environment, to the challenges they face. Learning enriches their experience. From this perspective, the purpose of training is enhancement of potential and building capabilities. Enabling participants to learn is important. Learning is more than receiving information. Learning involves creative use of information or data, as we call it these days. How much does the trainer enable? Often he collects information, repackages them, and dispenses them as his programme. Games, team plays and sometimes outdoor engagements are thrown in as embellishments. After all, marketing is important.
In programme over programme the same inputs continue to be dispensed, because the trainer believes that it has been "received" well.. The tragedy is that the trainer does not learn from each of his own programmes. He has stopped learning long ago, when his first, second or third programme "clicked"! That is why over a period of time his programme remains same, including the spicy jokes, anecdotes and stories, which were added to enrich the flavour in the recipe. The trainer had arrived at the mountain of knowledge long ago. He has no more peaks to climb. It is for the participants to trudge that path. That is the Trainer's Trap.     
When success thrills, but fails to provide lessons on the secrets of the success, it ends in peril. Those who are caught in the Trainer's Trap are prone to like their own voice, feel that their programmes are wonderful, believe that participants' listening is participation. They look at the training programme as a performance like that of a musician or magician. Indeed. a training programme is a performance. The trainer needs to have the same emotional involvement with his performance as the musician or the magician. But there is one important difference between the two - for the musician or the magician the performance is an end in itself; for the trainer the performance is a means to convey a message and secure the involvement of the participants. When the trainer fails to appreciate this difference he is in Trainer's Trap.  

By V.K.Talithaya  ➪
On 5/15/2017


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