Being a trainer requires a wide range of skills from the technical to the interpersonal. Stsavage is looking for ways to teach IT people to use both and poses an interesting question worth 160 points in the Training Forum:

“I provide training programs for IT professionals and trainers to help them be more effective with the human element of their work (touchy feely, soft skills etc.). What advice would you offer on how to be most helpful to my IT audience? For example, so they are not put off by the ‘touchy-feely’ topic.“

This is a tough one. Many people tend to specialize in one set of skills or the other. It’s rare to find an employee who can both write code and help users decode the mysteries of computers. TechRepublic members have offered these suggestions about how to help people develop “soft” skills.

Get your students to “remember when”
Grafyt said he likes to remind people that at some point in the past, they too were newbies, and whether or not they had patient and understanding people who helped them learn, they should try to find these two qualities in themselves.

“I have had occasion to teach introductory classes on the college level to many new users, and found out just how frustrating it can be when patience grows thin. When this happens, I step back a moment and try to remember my own confusion when learning ‘computers.’ Then I try to attack the problem from another angle until I find a solution that will finally drive home the answer for my student.”

Games work sometimes
Jesalyer points out that there is a big difference between giving information to a class of students and having them understand it on a gut level. This writer believes that trainers and IT professionals have to use creative extended metaphors to get their audiences to understand their material on a basic level.

“Example: When explaining the concept of error propagation to trainees for an ISP, I had the class play a game of operator. Yes, this may have burned a little extra time, but those folks understood the concept, and every single one of them could explain it clearly to me afterward.

“Second, the IT folks also have to understand that they must take great pains to communicate clearly to their audience, sometimes even troubleshooting the information being provided by the client/customer.”

Invest time and effort in your users
Sometimes there’s no other way to achieve long-term improvement than to spend time with employees and do one-on-one training.Terrys said that in his first LAN admin job, he had to put forth a lot of effort to retrain his users because they had been “trained” to get out of the way and let the IT person “drive.”

“It took a long time to break them of the habit and get them to take ownership of issues. The attitude I got initially was, ‘You’re the IT person. You figure it out.’ This ended when I taught them to fix issues themselves using coaching, handholding, and/or cajoling. The users became empowered and would even bring verbatim error messages and screen shots. I would frequently target the least computer literate to test my batch files and rollouts. Their success gave encouragement to all, and their failure underscored my need to simplify and rethink my approach.”
What do you think of these answers? How do you help students develop soft skills without getting all mushy? Post your own suggestion in the forums or send us a note with your ideas.