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Article No.: 09-4

Article Title: The Emotionally Intelligent Trainer and the Build-a-Bear Concept

Author: Linda Gravett, Ph.D., SPHR, CEQC & Sheri Caldwell, Ph.D., SPHR, CEQC

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We believe that, as trainers, the more aware you are of your needs and those of others, the more effective you’ll become at assessing situations and taking appropriate actions in response. While this can be a challenging process, developing your EQ can positively affect your life personally and professionally.

In this article, we’ll share some suggestions for developing emotional intelligence competencies so that you’ll be equipped to achieve excellence as a trainer.

The Build-A-Bear Concept

Think about your favorite trainer. Why does this person come to mind? Did s/he make a considerable impression upon you? Did s/he really know his/her material and leave you with something you can apply elsewhere? If not, did this trainer at least leave you with an extra “spring in your step” after speaking? Did s/he make you laugh, cry, smile, or just think?

The point is, each person will remember someone different and for a different reason. There is not one best way to train. There isn’t one right way to train. Each trainer will have their own unique characteristics that will appeal to different participants, for different reasons. Just like the long line of kids waiting patiently to build their bear, with each one choosing different parts to make their bear special, no two bears will ever be the same. Your training style will evolve over time and become yours alone.

“Building” a Trainer

So, what competencies does an ideal trainer have? If you’re already a trainer, you might already have some of the competencies we’ve previously discussed. However, perhaps your time management skills are poor, or your follow through after training events could be better. Many of us are strong in one or two areas and need help in others. Acceptance is the first step towards positive change, and recognizing that you need assistance or refinement is great. So, if you believe in continuous improvement, keep reading!

Former football coach, motivational speaker and author, Lou Holtz, wrote a book entitled, Do the Right Thing. In this book, Coach Holtz discusses the fact that you don’t have to be the best or smartest at something in order to manage it. Often times the shortfall in technical competence can be outweighed by “doing the right thing.” We believe a leader in the training field understands this difference.

James Kouzes and Barry Posner, leadership gurus, have often written about five keys to success as a leader. These include:

  1. Modeling how you want others to act on your values
  2. Inspiring a shared vision
  3. Challenging the usual processes for getting things done by searching for opportunities to innovate
  4. Enabling others to act by fostering collaboration and sharing power
  5. Encouraging the heart, or recognizing the contributions of others and creating a spirit of community

You hear stories about teams who were the underdog and came from behind to win. Almost always there is a story behind the player or coach who led the team to victory. Going back to Coach Holtz, he was in a position numerous times to play in the big game. His teams were often not the favorite. Yet, when the players were asked how they won, they indicated that it was because of Coach Holtz’s inspiration. He led by example and motivated the team by telling them that others didn’t feel they should be playing in the big game. He challenged them to get beyond the naysayers and to make them believe in themselves. You can’t evolve to this level of leading and inspiring others without emotional intelligence.

If You Build It, They Will Come

Getting stakeholders’ buy-in and ensuring that they are in agreement about training objectives is critical to success. The buy-in concept applies to the trainer, as well. If the trainer doesn’t believe in the training, the participants won’t either. If the people at the highest levels don’t participate in training at least to some degree, others won’t see the training as important.

The emotionally intelligent trainer understands motivation concepts. One key element of motivation theory is that people are motivated differently. In order to get potential participants charged up and energized about a training event, we like to ask them in communications prior to training sessions what their expectations and challenges are around the training topic. Once interest levels and key problems are identified, a communication with an abstract of the training can be sent with the agenda and logistics.

We’ve observed that effective trainers strive to build trust between themselves and participants from the moment people enter the training environment. One way to build trust is to be aware of trainees’ “hot buttons”, such as issues around compensation levels or position titles. Knowing when to stay away from topics and when to bring them into the conversation is crucial to building trust. When a pattern emerges where participants insist that a tool or idea is not feasible, for example, we like to stop and conduct a Force Field Analysis to surface barriers and support mechanisms. This can allow a positive momentum to take over when several positive aspects of an idea are offered.

According to authors Kouzes and Posner, inspiring a shared vision is one of the keys to successful leadership. This concept applies to a classroom, as well. Trainers have to empathize with their participants. For instance, trainers may get to go home after a training session; however, the participants will likely have to go back to their desks to complete their day’s work. The emotionally intelligent trainer recognizes this and often refers to ways that ideas and techniques will directly help the trainees when they go back to their work stations. Even if a trainer simply acknowledges that work is piling up during the training event, this shows that h/she is aware of the trade-off that trainees are making.

Walk the Talk

Okay, so you’re modeling how you want others to act, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the status quo, fostering collaboration and sharing power, and recognizing others’ accomplishments. You’re “doing right” in Coach Holtz’s language. Now what?

Becoming a change agent is the next step. This mindset, we want to warn you, is a risky one in many organizations. We encourage you to move forward cautiously, remembering approaches such as Return on Investment to ensure that others buy in to your suggested changes.

Perhaps your organization has some poor performers and their managers want to retain them anyway because finding replacements may be time consuming. The managers may believe that the cost of turnover is already high and it’s in the best interests of the organization to attempt to turn around poor performance. As a trainer, you may be charged with the responsibility of turning poor performers into effective employees. Your challenge is to take steps to assess the situation and determine, for example, if the true problem is a skill set deficit or inadequate resources…or something else. You may need to speak out and suggest that training is not the best way to address all areas of poor performance. We’re suggesting that an emotionally intelligent trainer will sometimes have to do some homework and suggest other alternatives to training.

Do Your Best

Once you understand your role as trainer and the importance of being a change agent, we encourage you to consider your current level of emotional intelligence, your technical skill set and your influence within the organization so you know what you can, and cannot, act upon.

A key to increasing emotional intelligence is recognizing and naming your own feelings. Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Shame are the five core emotions described in the literature we’ve cited throughout our book. You can learn to name your emotions by becoming accustomed to tuning in to the physical signs that accompany feelings. For example, Linda has learned over time to associate clenching her fists with feelings of anxiety. She first became aware of this association when she noticed several pictures of herself over time, in different types of situations, in which she often had her fists clenched. She started to reflect on what was occurring in these pictures and identified several instances in which she was anxious or nervous, even though she had a smile on her face in the pictures.

Ask your friends and family to help you identify your emotional “hot buttons.” Accept their feedback and look for these indicators in future interactions. For example, Sheri once had a professor tell her that she didn’t accept compliments. He said that it’s okay to say thank you instead of telling a person h/she was wrong for giving the compliment. After receiving this feedback, Sheri started to pay attention to her behavior when she received positive comments. She often found herself saying, “Oh, not really,” or “It wasn’t me,” or something other than thank you. From that day on, Sheri began accepting compliments more graciously.

We will sometimes have to receive negative feedback, and that’s hard for most of us. Think about the popular television show, American Idol. Simon Cowell, one of the judges, is known for being rude and obnoxious. Often what he says is true; he’s just insensitive in his delivery. We’ve observed that some contestants accept his criticism and even thank him, acknowledging that he’s entitled to his opinion. There will undoubtedly be some “Simon Cowell’s” in our future.

We suggest that you write down those behaviors that allow your emotions to get the best of you, and devise a plan to confront them. For example, perhaps a coworker has left you a nasty phone message after work hours. Instead of responding by phone, plan to confront that person face to face and let him/her know how upsetting the phone call was to you and the importance resolving the issue. You may find that the person left the message after hours because h/she was uncomfortable with confrontation. You can model positive disagreement by demonstrating win-win dialogue. Each incident that you handle in this positive way provides you with experience so you can get past your own feelings of inadequacy in handling confrontations.

We realize that you don’t always have time to practice scenarios that might occur. In real life; there are no dress rehearsals. However, the more you reflect on and even practice how you want to approach people, the easier in-the-moment interactions become. For example, in the above phone message example, you could devise a series of questions to help you understand the caller’s reasons for leaving the message such as, “Are you upset because the training evaluation summary is late?” Clarification questions like this may lead you to discover that issues you weren’t even aware of caused anger or concern. Probe questions help you avoid misinterpreting others’ feelings, shows your interest, and help you resolve problems.

As Dale Carnegie said, “When dealing with people, remember that you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”

Here are some statistics to consider: “People experience an average of 27 emotions each waking hour. With nearly 17 waking hours each day, you have about 456 emotional experiences from the time you get up until the time you go to bed. This means that more than 3,000 emotional reactions guide you through each week and more than 150,000 each year! Of all the emotions you will experience in your lifetime, nearly two million of them will happen during working hours. It’s no wonder that people who manage emotions well are easier to work with and more likely to achieve what they set out to do (Bradbery and Greaves, 2005).

This article is excerpted from our upcoming book, Using Your Emotional Intelligence to Develop Others.

If you have any questions or need more information about this article, please complete our Contact Form, or contact Dr. Gravett by telephone at 513-753-8870.

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