Trainer Responses


Trainers and facilitators often have to orientate themselves in relation to a group of learners. The emotional landscape of a learning event often changes as do the needs of participants. When learning events such as courses and workshops are real, deep and involve exploring the zone of discomfort, a facilitator, trainer or leader who wanders at ease through the emotional landscape, better serves the needs of participants and the organisation or community sponsoring the learning event.

The responses below often describe a “default” that we tend to revert to as our own comfort zone based on habit, personality or our own current personal context. However, that default sometimes can inhibit flow in a learning event. A trainer or facilitator, leader or manager, needs to be conscious, able to sense the mood change of a group, the level of anxiety and the needs that, if met, will optimise learning.

Here are four archetypal and more or less healthy responses by trainers and facilitators to their clients are listed below…

Trainer and Facilitator Responses in Learning Events

Sympathetic response

Aspects of your training which demonstrate a sympathetic understanding and offering to your participants

In the sympathetic state, you don’t know what it is like to be in the shoes of your learners; their world is radically different from yours. But at an archetypal level you can feel “for” them. You are also a human being, a person who works, who strives, who learns. You can connect and come across as caring without being too involved. You can also appear to be too emotionally involved, lacking the perspective that comes from being more detached.

Empathic response

Aspects of your training process which “put you in the same boat” as your participants, creating a sense of fellowship “Let’s go through this together”

In the emphatic state, you feel “with” the participants. You can put yourself emotionally into their shoes. Whereas, the sympathetic state is still “I” and “you”, the empathic state is more “We” and “Us”. You can be “too close in”, too involved, sentimentally attached in ways that diminish your ability to be fair or objective.

Apathetic response

Aspects of training process which demonstrate a lack of connection with the participants’ pain experience, a lack of feeling for it or sensitivity towards it.

In the apathetic state, you are entirely emotionally detached from participants. They are “over there”. Your detachment allows you to see them more as “objects” (Objectively). You lack emotional connection but can view their learning needs and journey dispassionately. You can also appear aloof and uncaring, out of touch and callous.

Antipathetic response

Aspects of your training process which make life harder for your participants or even make them feel you are capitalising on their pain, even making it worse

Trainers can get into a state of contempt for learners, when they get burned out, or feel undervalued. However, the antipathetic state can also be a useful approach when a group needs to be challenged on collusion, “woken” out of complacency, and in need of devil’s advocacy. It should be used consciously and ethically. When a trainer falls into antipathy born of burnout or an attitude problem, they need to step away from the training and facilitation role.

So, these responses are part of the trainer’s emotional “repertoire”. They require adaptability and a willingness to abandon the default programme in favour of what is really needed. Conscious trainers and facilitators tap into the emotional narrative of a training or development day. They “tune in” and then attempt to interact in ways that are authentically helpful in the long run. To do this they need to be able to improvise, and to apply that improvisation in the “emerging now” of the learning process.

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