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The Educated Training Consumer

Trainers are From Mars, or Is That Pluto, or, Maybe Just Goofy

Unfortunately for consumers of training, while there are some excellent trainers, and a lot of good trainers, there's a fair number of "goofy" trainers, trainers who are incompetent, and even worse, not aware of their own limitations. This is a fairly serious issue for both individuals and companies who want to maximize the "bang for the buck" for their training investments. As part of our Educated Training Consumer series, let's start by identifying some of the potential pitfalls associated with attending or purchasing training.

Some Background

Here's the thing. Unlike professions like Law, Medicine and Accounting, anyone can simply call themself a "trainer" (or a coach). No qualifications are required. No education is required. No expertise is required. And, no experience either. Some trainers enter the field through rigorous study in areas like Psychology, or Education, or move into the field from other fields where they may have been involved with training delivery, or acquired valuable experience. Some perfectly fine trainers enter the field in other ways that help them develop the attitudes, skills and knowledge that will help them deliver effective training.

And then there are the goofy ones, the inept and incompetent. There tends to be a pattern associated with goofy trainers, and that is that they tend to have little interest in theories, or disciplined study, and tend to get their expertise from superficial and fadish pop psychology books, or from what they call "life experience". It's not always clear why their life experience, so valuable and powerful that it qualifies them to teach others, is somehow better than YOUR life experience, but that's a detail goofy trainers don't usually concern themselves with.

The goofy position is "I can see that method x (or instrument y) works with my own eyes, and it works for me, so therefore I'm going to conclude that it will work for everyone else". This philosophy is identical to saying: "I can see with my own eyes that the world is flat, and so I'm going to teach it to everyone". That's not good.

The truth is that not everyone can train well, and not everyone is cut out for training. Training requires skill and knowledge for it to work well.

Here's an real life example, taken from a message posted by someone who does sales training (name removed to protect the goofy). It appeared on a discussion list with over 3,000 "trainers" and "coaches" in virtual attendence.:

"There are key traits (physical features) in the face that one can identify that relate to an individuals buying style. For example: A convex (Greek nose) looks for the bargain.

How much does is cost and is it worth it? Whereas the ski jump nose will look for how the product or service will benefit them. Exposed (hooded) eyelids just needs the basic information to make a decision. If you waffle on with these people they will either interrupt or loose interest.

The narrow face will be hesitant in taking on new situations. Offer them the support and it will take the anxiety out of their decisions....

The face reading system I use has been well researched to be 92% accurate.

There's no way of knowing where and how this person adopted the belief that one could predict behavior on the basis of the shape of someone's nose, but there's no doubt that this trainer believes in this, and is attempting to make a living teaching others about this magnificent system. Note the final sentence referring to the "research", which is never referenced of cited so this "proof" can be examined. It's typical of goofy trainers to hint at research or studies supporting whatever hair-brained ideas they have. Usually they haven't actually read that research directly, and have come across it tenth hand.

One can only sit back and have profound sympathy for anyone having to sit through "training" offered by this person. What is perhaps even more shocking that there was not a single response questioning this person's beliefs from any of the "professionals" on that list.

Here's another example, which is probably more amusing than anything else, again written by a trainer.

I remember Pluto onced asked his teacher, Which way is the best way to teach - "By asking questions..." If you tell them they could argue, but if you asked them, whatever they say reveals their thoughts and makes teaching easier for you.

Now, Pluto may be a character from Disneyworld, along with Mickey and Goofy, and it's certainly the name of a planet, but it might behoove this particular trainer/coach to track down the "quote", since Pluto is not Plato, and it probably does come from Plato. Still that requires effort, and one of the characteristics of goofy trainers is to never read a primary or direct source. Actually READ Plato (or Pluto)? Nah. In all seriousness, the goofy trainer seems not to feel a strong need to verify his or her knowledge, information and skills, and that's really the point. Goofy trainers really do "make up" a lot of stuff, and present that stuff as fact. And that's not good either.

Do you want a trainer that confused Pluto and Plato? Or doesn't bother to check a source, or verify the information he or she uses?

Why Do Some Trainers Get Goofy

There are countless examples of trainers who have no clue what they are doing, and put training attendees through useless exercises and activities that most informed and rational people would conclude are a waste of time and energy. But how does this happen? Well, part of it has to do with a growing anti-intellectualism in training (and some other fields), and that, in turn ties into the ease of entrance into the field. So, let's look at a few more messages to understand why some trainers get goofy.

From the same list where nose shapes are promoted as predictors of behavior, and Pluto is quoted, here's a short excerpt from a message on what constitutes "proof".

I have noticed a curious tendency among some members of this list (only some!) to seek to have things proven, as if it is possible to prove them
beyond all doubt. This seems to be a symptom of using reason too exclusively...

Certainly, there are other ways of knowing and experiencing the world besides "reason". But one has to wonder whether many of us would say the same thing about an accountant, or a medical doctor or even a plumber. Personally, I want a plumber who can "reason". I also want and expect trainers to be able to reason. Silly me.

And another comment from another trainer/coach explaining why science and the scientific method is something worth ignoring.

And in the meantime with the urgency to scientifically prove the outcome we loose humaness such as love, caring, understanding loyalty and compassion.

We can't be absolutely sure what the writer meant here, but it's a bit perplexing as to how the desire to validate what trainers do necessarily has to result in situations where "we loose humaness". But we can guess that this individual (and perhaps a number of others who exhibit this kind of anti-intellectualism) have very little first-hand experience with scientific inquiry. And probably don't care whether what they are saying is "rational" or not.

And finally, here's a quote taken from a message which urges other trainers to be more careful, and apply more critical thinking about the claims made by colleagues (and that's good). But what's interesting is the belief expressed below:

What is truth? Truth is in the eye/mind/heart of the beholder and it's constantly changing. Each of us has our own truth.

This is a common perspective, that facts, truth, knowledge and so on are so personal and relative that there is no body of truth that crosses across individuals. It's the ultimate if self-centeredness driven to extreme. My truth is my truth. Which is fine until the person expressing this position is being paid to teach and train others, while at the same time believing that truth and knowledge is "relative" and constantly changing. Because what they teach is "their truth", and since any old truth is as equally valid as any other old truth, they don't tend to make the effort to look outside of themselves to check to see if "their truth" has any applicability beyond their very small patch of turf.

This is one reason why some trainers use pop psych. personality inventories in their training...because their favorite inventory confirms their "truth". And the "trainer's truth" is somehow different from the truths of everyone's well...better, more universal. So while truth may be in the eye of the beholder for most people, the trainer's truth is somehow worth imposing on everyone else's truth in training. Following that? If that doesn't quite ring right, perhaps what you want is a trainer who is a little more rational, logical and intellectually disciplined.

Innoculate Against Goofy Trainers

Here are a few things to keep in mind when considering hiring/choosing a trainer.

1) Talk to the trainer if you can. If you hear a lot of buzz words, or empty phrases, back away. A competent trainer will be able to explain to you why s/he does what s/he does in clear English that makes sense to you. If the trainer sounds even remotely like a fortune cookie, or can only explain a training method by saying "It works", then that's a good tip off that the person doesn't have the depth of understanding that you want a trainer to have.

2) Here's a key goofy warning sign. A competent trainer will spend much more time getting information about what you need compared to telling you what s/he can offer you. Excellent trainers customize what they do for each client. Poor trainers tend to use the exact same training tools no matter what kind of subject matter is involved and no matter what YOUR needs are. One common example is a trainer who is convinced of the usefulness of some specific personality type instrument, and uses it for every training situation he or she is involved in. The problem is that these "one-trick ponies" will only be effective if the pet technique accidentally happens to be something that will address your needs. Training success should never be an accident.

3) Don't buy into the notion that a trainer only needs "some" knowledge about the topic on which he or she is providing training. That's nonsense. Even basic training on relatively simple topics requires the trainer understand way more about the topic than what's going to be covered. That's because the trainer should be able to answer learner questions that may go beyond the basics. The more a trainer knows and understands about the topic, the better he or she will be able to explain even the simple things. Deep understanding is important when teaching, because it supplies the why's of what's being taught.

4) Finally, if a trainer doesn't ask WHY you want to do the training you have in mind, that's a major warning sign. Part of the trainer's responsibility should be to help you ensure that the training actually meets your needs. Without knowing why you want the training, there's no way a trainer can take on that responsibility. Good trainers will ask why, and evaluate whether their offerings will get you where you want to go. They will refuse to provide training that will fail.

Goofy trainers tend to ride on the surface of the wave, and will rarely tell you when their offerings will be a waste of your time and money. That's because a) they believe what they offer is a gift from on high and believe what they have will help everyone and b) they tend to be more interested in riding their pet ponies around the arena in front of people than actually helping you.

We've just scratched the surface here, and in further parts to this series we'll provide you with more tips on getting the most of training, whether you are looking to hire a trainer to deliver courses to your staff, or whether you are trying to choose training seminars to attend.

So...thhhat's all, folks, for now.

About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


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