First appeared in ‘Training Zone’ (U.K.)
Facing the reluctant learner is never the happiest part of a trainer’s job, but how do you deal with a dozen people about to be made redundant who are only there to get them out of the office.
I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to teach people who don’t really want to be there. It’s not nice but hey it’s not that bad. Usually it works out that they’re really busy back in the “real world”. Either that or they have some fear of training course, which in turn can lead to some interesting discussions. The upshot of these discussions tend to be previous training courses where they felt intimidated/ ignored /bored /embarrassed or all four. We talk at break, they start opening up about their concerns slowly and they go away realising it wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be – or at least that’s what they tell me.
These situations are child’s play compared to when people really don’t want to be there. Often it’s a residential course. You’re trapped with these people for a week. You can’t easily send them away – they’re there so you do what you can. “So what do you hope you’ll get out of the next five days?” I ask. “Plenty of sleep,” they respond. You get the idea.
This tends to happen with mandatory courses. Why oh why does anyone feel that making courses mandatory is any help to anyone? You’re off to a bad start already aren’t you? You’ve already set up a reactant – something for them to fight against. Reactants occur when you limit someone’s freedom. In this case their ability to choose whether to attend or not. By denying them the choice, you’re virtually guaranteeing unhappiness.
There was an experiment run where volunteers were questioned and had no strong preference about two different brands of chocolate. However, a machine was set up with only one brand available. Most of the volunteers were willing to walk quite a distance to have the other brand. Why? Because you’d limited their choice and the reactance kicked in.
Anyway, these events are usually difficult to begin with, but tend to improve as the time goes on. The skills are patience, listening, not blaming and then a bit more patience. Every now and again a situation comes along that doesn’t fit neatly into the “I behave skilfully and things will work out fine” category.
I’d heard there were redundancies happening at the organisation I was working with. What I didn’t realise was that the 12 people on the course were waiting to leave in a few weeks and were sent on the course to basically, get out of the office. This rapidly became apparent as I looked around the room and saw them. They were looking at me as cowboys used to get looked at in saloons in the old West when they walked through the banging doors. There was a deathly silence. They folded their arms. I talked some gibberish about the aims of the course and how motivational it could be. One of them stood up and said: “I’m 53. The only life I’ve known is this office. All my friends are leaving. I’ll probably never work again around here. My wife has taken the kids and gone back to her mother. I’m drinking two bottles of wine a night. Go on – motivate me.”
How we laughed…