Five Trainer Habits That Separate the Best From the Rest

Posted on July 21, 2015 by Nate Regier / 1 comments
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I train, I train trainers, and I train trainers of trainers. This is my role as a Certifying Master Trainer in the Process Communication Model. I’ve worked with the entire spectrum of trainers, from novice to world-class. I’ve experienced the thrill of delighted and engaged participants, the agony of failure as a trainer, and everything in between.

It takes a certain set of attributes to be a good trainer. Comfort in front of people, knowledge of the subject matter, experience, a passion for learning, interest in people. I’d say these are the minimum pre-requisites. Anyone in a learning and development role should have these attributes. I’ve worked with hundreds of trainers who have these attributes and still aren’t great at what they do. Regardless of what field they are in or what they are training, the most exceptional trainers I’ve met share these five qualities. 

Process precedes content

The best trainers understand that what they say is less important than how it is said. The process of communication is all about nuance, perception, body language, key word choice. The most knowledgeable, smart, and experienced trainers are ineffective if they cannot connect with their audience through process. Relying on content while sacrificing process is a sure way to be a boring, one-sided, and out of touch. Consider these two ways of starting a training event..

“I have a lot of valuable information to share with you today designed to benefit your efficiency.”

“I am glad to see each of you today and look forward to getting to know you and your unique experience at work.”

Which one engaged you? Each of these engages a different subset of your audience in critical ways that impact their engagement, learning, retention, and motivation to apply what they are learning.

Being effective is more important than being right

What do you do when your participants are skeptical or don’t appreciate the importance of what you are sharing? Battling with your participants over the importance or accuracy of what you are teaching is pure folly. It doesn’t matter what you know. It matters how your participants experience it. Consider these two statements:

“Here’s what you need to know to be more efficient.”


“I am passionate about these strategies and welcome your opinions on their value in your life.”

The first one reveals the need to be right. The second reveals the desire to be effective. The first one invites defensiveness. The second one invites engagement. When you have to choose only one, would you rather be right, or effective?

It all starts with self-awareness and self-management

The best trainers are intimately in touch with their minds (thoughts, ideas, plans, agenda, goals), their hearts (emotions, physiological responses, comfort level, boundaries), and their actions (behaviors, motivations, impact on others). They are constantly evaluating and balancing these three for maximum effectiveness. Great trainers know their bodies, manage their stress, take care of themselves, and stay out of distress while training. They are aware of how their behaviors affect others and how their attitudes and beliefs come through in their work. They know their triggers, hot buttons and areas of weakness, and have strategies to respond effectively.

What are your triggers? How do you stay emotionally, physically, and psychologically healthy every day? How do your behaviors affect those around you?

I’m not a trainer, I’m a learning facilitator

Exceptional trainers realize they aren’t training, they are facilitating learning. Facilitating is about creating environments where people can discover, engage, and take ownership over their learning experience. The age of sit-and-get is gone. Learners want to be co-creators.

Is it more important for you to be the expert, or for you participants to find joy and ownership in the learning experience? If you need to be the expert with all the answers you aren’t a great trainer yet. If you haven’t admitted you are wrong or that you didn’t have the answer you aren’t a great trainer yet.

Compassionate Accountability

Compassion without accountability gets you nowhere. Accountability without compassion gets you alienated. The best trainers balance the two by fostering environments of safety, curiosity, and consistency. They know that the best outcomes occur when people are open about their hopes, fears, and motives, resourceful in creative problem-solving, and persistent in following through with the tough work of practice and application.

Are you open? Are you resourceful? Are you persistent?

Process Communication Model and Leading Out of Drama, our two signature leadership communication and conflict frameworks, are meta-process models. This means that they teach strategies for improving your effectiveness, regardless of the content or format being used. Whether you want to add our training systems to your toolbox or simply use the strategies to be a better trainer, we invite you to explore our Trainer/Coach Trajectory.

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Sandy Gieber
Posted on August 4, 2015

Great summary! I used to think I was a great trainer while working is aerospace. I got great feedback, often times being called the great “expert,” and being highly sought after. I can’t say it felt bad… Later I realized that being an expert doesn’t cut it. When I learned to relate to different types of audiences, in a way that transcended the content, I felt much more fulfilled. It is a challenge to balance content and the process of teaching that content. And, when we do that, people’s experiences can be transformative.

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