Training with Heart

Does your training have “heart”? What is “heart” anyway and why might this be a question worth asking? In this article I make a plea for trainers to bring their humanity to work, champion the passionate and connect with their deepest values.

Having become somewhat nauseated with an excess of clever theories, shallow tricks and unethical practice throughout the training and development world I was compelled to ask the folks at Training Zone if I could write an article on “training with heart”. They agreed and I’ve been exploring the idea of what “heart” might mean within a training and coaching  context since. I’m still finding out myself so these are just a few ideas. One responses might be to ask what am I on about, surely we all have a four-chambered blood pump in our chests, what’s the problem?

The problem, or opportunity if yo’ve been on too many cheesy courses, is that training can be a humanising factor in organisations but is often just the opposite. It is frequently a way to stuff people into boxes, deny emotional reality and enforce the wills of those who buy it with little or no thought for the wellbeing of those who receive it. Let’s take the example of stress training which I do quote a bit of. This can be done in a manner which acknowledges the real suffering that occurs at work and supports people with them as partners, or as a blame laden band-aid for wider organisational issues. Ultimately, training that is trying to enforce one group’s agenda over another without real consent or at least buy-in, is just a form of organisational violence and not “heart-felt”. I wouldn’t train a dog this way.

If the “why” of training is vital so is the “how”. While there are many styles of training which could be considered heart-felt, and nobody has the final word on this, here are a few questions you could ask of a trainer as pointers.

Is the training a purely cognitive affair

I’ve written before on Training Zone before about the importance of interactive and embodied training so enough to say here than no training that is a dry, overly-cerebral powerpoint yawnathon can ever have what I call heart. The work of trainers with heart is juicy, lively and engaging.

Do they have the intention to emotionally connect with delegates?

Now this is not “are they touchy feely?” or even “are they emotionally intelligent?” – these miss the point – but does the trainer value participants enough as human brings to want to connect with them rather than treat them as means to an end. I may only score a seven out of ten on an emotional intelligence test, but if I value people and want to understand their experience I have heart. Real empathy is a part of what I am talking about and this no more means forcing people to discus emotions than it means denying them.

Note that trainers with heart are not less but more effective than trainers who are merely transactional as learning is built on rapport. Talking about building rapport however as a pseudo-caring NLP trick again misses the point, and in my experience is quickly spotted and hated. To be an effective trainer you must care, not just be skilled at pretending you care.

Does the Trainer have passion?

In the same way as pretending to care for participants is not enough, pretending to care about the subject also doesn’t cut it. The word “passion” is overused and over-talked in business circles – “we believe passionately in customer service” “I’m passionate about coaching leaders…” etc. Really?  Passion is something that emanates from every pore of ones being. If you wouldn’t do something ALL NIGHT FOR FREE then you are not passionate about it. Is the trainer a bit of a geek (in the best possible sense) about their subject? Is their enthusiasm infectious? Do they really love what they do?

Who or what does the trainer serve?

While trainings must always have a return on investment to be considered, a trainer with heart does not serve profit, themselves, or even the people who have commissioned them, but the human being beings in front of them. This may sound a little radical and I believe it is often the elephant in the training room. As a trainer this can put you in tricky situations and long-term the “I” (trainer), “we” (group) and the “it” (company profit) can always be aligned – someone in the wrong job for example is better to find this out in training sooner rather than later for all involved.

Ultimately, and I am aware that this may go to far for some, if a trainer is no connected to spirituality in some form – their highest calling or values for example – their work will be dull, empty and without heart.

Is the trainer courageously authentic (and funny)?

When a trainer is both connected to their own values and serving others, the opportunity to be fully authentic arises. The split between work and play, and the narrative of “serious professionalism” (meaning emotionally and spiritually cut-off, closed and basically a BS merchant) is no longer necessary. Authenticity takes courage because it involves vulnerability – if you can really be seen, you can really be hurt. As a trainer who like many has gotten used to the safety of the “expert” position this is a growth-edge for me. When I manage it my training is universally assessed as better than when I am fearful, polished and closed to real human contact in the training room. Skip the cliches, just be yourself…hang on isn’t that one itself? Humour is also part of heart I would say 🙂

Metaphor and Pathology

Neuroscience is now increasingly recognising the importance of emotions and neurones outside the brain, particularly in the gut and heart, for thinking and social interaction (see for example Antonio Damasio). The Japanese sharing of one character for heart and mind (shin) may be very wise. So while I am using the near universal symbol of heart as a metaphor here, there is in fact a growing base for this in neurology. In the future we may no more want our training to be heartless than mindless – both are integral parts of the being a person and therefore business and organisational life. From a trauma perspective to take the heart from training can be seen as a form of “dissociation” on a group level; clinically it shares characteristics with both autism and psychopathy!

Conclusion and Modern Training Trends

Essentially what “heart” refers to then is both real emotional intelligence and deep integrity. Because of the potential influence trainers as educators have within organisations I very much hope this plea is taken to heart…if you’ll excuse the pun. This is not a minor add-on matter but the essence of what is problematic in the modern workplace and a much needed change for the future. The growing emphasis on training measurement and outcomes is something which which I fully support as long as heart is not removed from the picture. Whether e-learning can really ever really impart the qualities I am talking about is up for debate. Would you really want your child’s teacher at school being replaced by a computer? No, because the emotional and interpersonal elements of education are vital, why then in the corporate world are they considered less so? Ethics aside (and I believe they should never be at work) the evidence of what makes an effective manager points clearly to these competencies in any event, so business sense as well as human common-sense may yet win through. Perhaps the simplest way of discussing training with heart is the golden rule – I ask myself as a trainer would I want to learn like this?

If you are interested to learn more about ‘training with a heart’ you may like to take a look at the articles and video below.

If your organisation is looking at leaderhip training in the workplace then call us on (+44) (0) 7762 541 855 or (+44) (0) 1273 906828.

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