Published on 2012/01/30

Understanding Your Audience To Clear The Hurdles

I can’t seem to turn on the news, pick up a professional journal or scan a newspaper without seeing something about the workforce today being more diverse than those previously seen; a wider span of generations, more global influence and the ever-present ripple of changing technology. Keeping training up to speed with the changes is challenge enough. But, what to do when your stakeholders are resistant to what is being offered in training?

Adult learners have a different set of needs and expectations than young students, especially in workplace training. This is not a topic that they have decided to pursue out of personal interest, but rather may be thrust upon them and the trainer may find the participants walking in their door willing, ambivalent, or openly resistant. It is as if you are looking to overcome not only the typical hurdles every trainer faces in regards to meeting the needs of multiple learning styles, but also the hurdles that the learners are dragging into training with them.

As a trainer, there are only so many things that I can control or influence. In light of that, I would propose a few things—be honest, be prepared to explain why, and be persistent.

By being honest, I mean that you may need to be able to honestly address that this topic is not on the top of their priority list. Without guilt, blame, or any frustration on our part, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of our learners and be honest with ourselves. If we can understand what the hurdles are that our learners have brought with them, and why they have been placed there, we stand a better chance of overcoming them. In technology training for instance, the hurdle may be a discomfort with or a fear of the technology itself. If I can see that for what it is, I can approach the materials differently, hopefully making it more comfortable for the learner to meet the training objective—learn the material in such a way as to be able to apply it well. If the learner, even when reluctant or skeptical, can feel listened-to it can create tremendous forward momentum in reducing hurdles.

The second point is to be able to explain why. In my experience, adult learners need to understand why something is important, especially why it should be important to them. I prefer a 360 degree approach to this. I would like those in attendance to be able to understand why the material should be important to them, their direct reports, their clients, and the company as a whole. In other words, I’m now asking the learner to stand in the shoes of others and take a look around. Would this training topic, if learned and applied well, remove the hurdle of gaining a new or keeping a past client, increase engagement of the team, improve process productivity, or remove a business cost? If the “why” is simply and clearly stated, given needed validity, it can go far in removing hurdles.

At times hurdles are going to be present regardless of what we do. So, my last thought is to be persistent in the message and in offering support. Going back to the technology example, don’t wait for someone to fully grasp an entire software program. Move quickly when even a small effort is made, and recognize it for what it is—effort, and provide the needed support to make the next step a bit easier. I have found that when this is done regularly, people are quicker to approach with questions, reducing their frustration and thus reducing the hurdles.

We will never have a completely hurdle-free environment, but we can take measures to address and thus reduce them.

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