As training managers, we’ve experienced our share of questions from students and other instructors. We often repeat what we consider ridiculous questions to our peers and have a good laugh at the inquisitor’s expense. I’ve talked about the need for instructors to have time and space to blow off steam—see “Sticks and Stones and Nightmare Students .” However, I feel the subject needs more attention as the chasm separating the technologically elite from the techno-novice grows ever deeper.

With all due respect to those of us who have earned a software degree from Any Major Software Company Who Certifies People, we all need some humble pie from time to time, reminding us of why we’re here. When an instructor or student asks a question, it is the nature of that question and the way it is asked that determines our response. But a training manager’s failure to exhibit sincerity, honesty, and fairness will result in a loss of confidence, lack of respect, and a tarnished reputation.

Nobody is born with a mouse in his or her hand. Everyone else learned cut-copy-paste just like you did. If you take the time to listen to a question, you’re halfway home.

Often we hear only what we wish to hear, and we subconsciously block out certain words or phrases for a variety of reasons, then answer accordingly. If an instructor comes to you with what you feel is a simple question—and you do not listen fully to the question—you may give an answer that is incorrect. That instructor may now repeat your answer in class, allowing your mistake in listening to misinform an entire group of paying customers. You thought the question so simple and basic, you jumped to an incorrect conclusion. If someone is asking you a question, keep your mouth closed until that person is finished. Think about the question before you open your mouth. Then, think about the answer.

Keep in mind that the instructors working with you may not be at your level of technical acumen. Students are paying your company to obtain this sought-after attribute. If you acquire an elitist attitude and answer questions without understanding the experience level of the person asking them, then you require additional training in human nature. In the example above, if we were to answer a question we felt too simple with a flippant attitude, then we did not properly understand the level of experience of the person asking that question. Understand your instructors and students and strive to maintain some humility.

As a training manager, your job is hectic. Even so, you should attempt to assist anyone in your company who has a question you feel you can answer. Be they sales, janitorial, secretarial, or managerial staff, offer up your knowledge freely and without judgment. One response often not considered assistance is the honest answer, “I’m not sure, but I’ll do my best to find out for you.”

While at first this may seem like passing the buck, giving incorrect information just to save face is totally inexcusable. If you don’t know the answer, say so. Do not hazard a guess without consulting those around you who may possess more knowledge than you do. Any individual, regardless of status, would prefer to hear an honest answer as opposed to one that isn’t helpful. If you wish to hear yourself talk techno-babble with no regard for precision in correct answers, buy a tape recorder.

Adult education is difficult. Your customers may feel inferior the moment they come through the door. This is especially true of techno-novices. They may feel intimidated, unsure, and a bit apprehensive about attending classes. Your (and your instructors’) job is to reassure these customers. One way to accomplish this is to ask the customers questions about their experience with computers. Be positive without pandering to them. By engaging them in conversation, you may help erase their worries about what they think they should know, allowing them to learn comfortably.

Listen, again
Techno-wannabes and techno-pretenders don’t usually follow these rules. And why should they? Their mystique and power come from always having an answer, whether it’s right or wrong, and from feeling superior to those who know less. Don’t fall into this trap, and keep your instructors from doing so. Lead by example. Listen, understand, assist, and reassure your instructors and your students. You won’t always be right. You may not be the top dog. However, you will garner respect. And that won’t go away.

Schoun Regan is a consultant to training firms who travels across North America educating people for Complete Mac Seminars . If you’d like to comment on this article, write to Schoun .