My dad lives on a farm in Missouri. He is a tough guy. He uses a torch and handles hot metal like he has no feeling in his fingertips, but he is afraid of snakes. This man will knock down a hornet’s nest with his bare hands, but will scream if he sees a snake a hundred yards away. This man walks much slower these days and even walks a little hunched over, but he will run like an Olympic sprinter if he comes across a snake.
I know that some snakes are not harmful and even help with pest control, but let’s just say that my dad is not getting close enough or studying a snake long enough to make a determination whether it is venomous or not.
I have a hard time relating to these feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I am not particularly fond of snakes, but they don’t bother me like they bother him. Now spiders on the other hand, don’t even get me started.
Why do we react this way? The truth is we are wired to avoid discomfort and to run from danger. We have a need for comfort and we generally put our needs first.
On occasion, our learners have similar feelings. While they may not fear attending training like my dad fears snakes, training makes them uncomfortable and they want to run from it. This fear can be in many forms such as a fear of being called on in class, a fear of being asked a question they have no answer for, a fear of being asked to participate in a role play, etc.
As learning and development professionals, we cannot relate to these feelings like our learners do. We go out of our way not to call someone out in class or ask trick questions. We also know that the learners may not have all the answers, which is the reason they are in the training. And while we may have to call on learners to participate in a role play, we do it because we know the value of practicing in a safe environment versus practicing on the customer.
But, as learning and development professionals, we can’t forget about the feelings of our learners. When was the last time you reviewed your opening remarks to ensure you clearly describe what will occur during class? Are you articulating not only that participation is required, but also the reasons why it is important? Are you conducting effective ice breakers to help ease the tension present at the start of most learning events? Do you control the comments from the group during role plays so that it is a safe, learning environment?
Do your part to reduce the fear and apprehension with your learners. You will have a more attentive audience and they will learn and retain much more of the information you are sharing.