When my brother and I were kids and asked my dad what he did at work, his answer was clear: “I count hamburgers.”
My dad worked for McDonald’s for 30+ years and at that time, headed up the accounting department. His simple (yet accurate) answer made sense to my 7-year-old brain without making me feel stupid.
I often hear from people who are afraid to ask questions or get coaching from leaders or mentors because they’ve been made to feel stupid for asking questions (or seen it happen to others). Here are five things you can do to to not be condescending when training a novice:
Go Back In Time
As we become more experienced, we take foundational concepts for granted. Before sitting down with a novice, take two minutes to consider what you knew at that point.
If you didn’t get good training or coaching at the time, what would have made it better? If you did, what did your leader or mentor do effectively? An answer to either question is a good starting point for you.
Say Less, Not More
In one of my first jobs, one manager in our location liked to impress us with all the details. He was probably the smartest person in the place but a lousy leader since nobody ever wanted to get trained by him. He’d take so long telling you about the advanced details that you’d feel foolish asking something basic. On the rare occasions when we knew as much as he did, he’d add in perspective to demonstrate that he was in the loop too.
Many people get excited about sharing knowledge. The best leaders take the opposite approach and challenge themselves to train and coach with the least amount of extra information. They believe “less is more” and listen for evidence that the novice is ready for more.
Share Your Mistakes
What might seem to be a simple skill to you could be quite intimidating to someone else. The novice working with you only sees the results of your hard work, not how you got there.
You can bridge this gap by sharing your mistakes. This helps the novice avoid the mistake themselves. More importantly, you lower stress levels by helping others realize you weren’t perfect right away either.
Run the 7-year-old test
If a 7-year-old were listening to you, would they understand the essence of your message?
If you’re not sure, seek out your favorite kid and offer to do something nice in exchange for some research. Explain what you’re training. If you get a blank stare, you’ve still got work to do.
I sat down with a client years ago and started talking about how they could use SMART goals. Later in the conversation, she asked politely, “So, what are SMART goals again?” It dawned on me that I had assumed she knew something she didn’t – shame on me.
Most of the time, people won’t interrupt poor training or coaching. They’ll sit there nodding and only later tell others how confusing you were.
Which of the above would be most helpful in your training and mentoring right now? Tell me in the comments below.