That awkward moment when… you have to train a peer

It’s one thing to get up in front of a room full of fresh-faced recruits and teach them something you know backwards. It’s entirely another to retrain a peer in ‘a new way of doing things’ or in the same way, but as part of a change program.

I’ve recently been involved in helping an organisation train in-house coaches, who in turn have to train their peers and subordinates (for want of a better word) using competency-based training. And while we are providing all the tools, support, workshops and templates we can, some coaches are intimidated by the fact they may have to retrain a peer to do what they already do, a little like teaching grandmother to suck eggs.

So I started thinking how I could help this ‘subgroup’ of coaches, with little experience in training, to feel more confident and comfortable to do so. I came up with three strategies for overcoming the awkwardness.

Knowledge is power, but honesty rules

Let’s take for granted you know the thing you are teaching at least as well as the person you are teaching. What they do not have is all the information about why they are being asked to do it. This is where you come in.

Find out all you can about the change program so you can be extremely clear about what you are training and why you are training it, in the way you are training it. You may need a manager to help you understand this thoroughly and to communicate it. But most change programs will have plenty of material written to help ‘convince’ recipients of change. Use this material to help you. But use it wisely. Don’t just say it’s ‘because we have to’, say it’s because we are part of the program to make xyz change happen.

To some, this may feel like toeing the company line, when in reality, you just feel lukewarm about the program. If this is the case, you just have to be honest. Not about your feelings about the program; that is just counterproductive, but about the situation you are both in. Call out the elephant in the room with an icebreaker like: ‘It feels strange to be delivering training like this to you, but if it makes you feel any better, I’ll be going through the same thing. Let’s just make it as positive as we can’.

Become a believer

If you completely believe in the change and have some belief in your role as a trainer – you were chosen for a reason – then, you will be able to pass that conviction onto the trainee. You will never feel the conviction if you are cynical about the training you are there to deliver. You must be sincere and honest with the person you are training. If you try to buddy up and not take the training seriously, it undermines the trainee and you. It’s also a total waste of everyone’s time and then nobody wins.

Honesty and transparency will show you are sincere. Using a sentence like ‘I know it’s awkward but we have to…’ does not dispel awkwardness. But saying ‘I know it’s awkward, but let’s use this as an opportunity to experience something new’ sets a different tone entirely.

Rinse and repeat

Experience diminishes fear. Ask anyone who has jumped out of a plane or sung karaoke. The more you do it, the more you practise and repeat the same steps, the more natural and easy it feels. Knowing this will not help you the first time, but it will help the second, and third and …

The actions you take to coach become hard wired into the brain. The reaction you have to people creating problems through, say, their attitude become more natural as you find out what works and what doesn’t.

Feeling awkward when you have to train a peer to do something differently, in something they potentially know better than you, is a natural reaction. Keeping it honest, believing in your role as a trainer and repetition will soon take those fears away.

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